If you are planning to end your marriage, you need to be aware of the California uncontested divorce procedures. This includes understanding what is an uncontested divorce and how to file an uncontested divorce in California.
California Divorce Basics
In California, a divorce is called a dissolution of marriage. The spouse filing for dissolution is the Petitioner, and the other spouse is the Respondent. Divorces are filed in the Superior Court of the county where the Petitioner resides. The Petitioner must have been a resident of California for at least six months, and of the county for at least three months.
What Is an Uncontested Divorce in California?
First, it helps to know what it means for a divorce to be contested. A case where the parties engage in a dispute over one or more of the following issues is known as a contested divorce:
- Property and debt division
- Alimony (in California, this is called spousal support)
- Child custody
- Child support
An uncontested case is one with no dispute over any of these matters.
There are typically four ways for an uncontested divorce to be accomplished in California:
- You and your spouse agree in advance that you both want a divorce, are in agreement about all of the issues involved, and simply need to get the appropriate forms filed to complete the process as quickly as possible
- Your spouse files a Response and is in agreement with all issues, but is content to let you take the initiative in getting the necessary forms prepared and filed, and will sign an agreement as to all issues.
- Your spouse does not file a Response, but is ultimately willing to sign an agreement as to all issues.
- Your spouse does not file a Response, and will not participate in the process in any way. This is known as a default case.
It is possible for a case to start out as contested, and end up uncontested if the parties ultimately reach an agreement. It is also possible that an uncontested divorce becomes contested when an unexpected dispute arises.
Uncontested Divorce Procedures
There are two uncontested divorce procedures in California: summary dissolution and standard dissolution.
There is a simplified uncontested procedure called a summary dissolution, which is available if both parties agree, and if all of the following requirements are met:
- There are no minor children;
- You have not been married for more than five years;
- No real estate is involved;
- Debts do not exceed $6,000 (not including auto loans);
- There is no more than $41,000 of community property (not including autos);
- Neither party has more than $41,000 in separate property (not including autos);
- Neither party will pay alimony; and
- The parties have a written property division agreement.
Both parties need to read the 20-page Summary Dissolution Information booklet, and waive their rights to appeal and to request a new trial. The limits for debts and property are updated periodically.
You and your spouse will need to complete and sign a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution (Form FL-800). You will then complete the process, with other forms, as outlined in the Summary Dissolution Information booklet.
If you are not able to use the summary dissolution procedure, then the California uncontested divorce forms used to begin a divorce case are the Petition for Dissolution (Divorce) of Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-100), and Summons (Form FL-110).
The Petition will be filed with the court clerk, at which time a case file number will be assigned. A copy of the filed Petition will need to be delivered to your spouse, along with the Summons and a blank copy of a Response and Request for Dissolution (Divorce) of Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-120).
Various other forms also may need to be filed to provide financial information, if you have minor children, and if alimony is being requested.
Exactly how your case proceeds from this point—and which forms need to be filed—will depend upon your spouse's level of cooperation and participation. The information provided by the websites for the California Courts and your local Superior Court, as well as your local court's family law facilitator or self-help center, can help you determine the forms needed for your situation.
Except in a true case of default—where one spouse fails to respond within the time frame required by law, or fails to appear for a court hearing—one of the key forms is a marital settlement agreement. This is a written agreement about how your property and debts will be divided, the custody and visitation agreement for any minor children, and spousal support (if any is to be paid). This agreement needs to be signed by both parties in the presence of a notary public. California law has specific requirements for determining child support, so you need to be sure your agreement complies with these guidelines.
The self-help section of the California Courts website has information about the divorce procedures, as well as necessary forms. Also, each county's Superior Court typically offers forms, as well as assistance from a family law facilitator or self-help center. Check the website for your county's Superior Court for more information about all available assistance, forms, and procedures. You may also want to engage an online service provider to help you navigate the various forms and processes involved in an uncontested divorce in California.
Compared with a contested case, an uncontested divorce in California costs less in terms of attorney fees and emotional stress. It also will be completed faster. Especially where the parties sign an agreement, it is less likely for an uncontested divorce to be overturned on appeal.