Divorce Steps in California

Even a “simple” divorce involves many steps in California. It is in your best interests to take the time to give serious consideration to each action that you take during the process because the terms of your divorce will affect your life far into the future.

When you work with an experienced divorce attorney, your legal advisor can guide you through the steps and help you gather information you need to make informed choices. It is important to know what the law requires, but it is also important to understand the things you should do as well as the things you must do.

Step 1: Prepare Before Filing

Before you prepare and file your petition for divorce, you need to gather information so you can develop a plan for the process. In case your spouse tries to hoard financial records or they happen to get “lost,” make copies of all the financial information pertaining to your marriage, and the years before if possible. This includes bank statements, tax returns, credit card bills, investment records—anything that shows assets and purchases. During the divorce process, you will be classifying property as separate or marital, and then all marital property will be divided. 

If you can secure records that show you owned an asset before marriage and haven’t used marital funds to improve it, you may be entitled to keep the full value. While debts acquired by either spouse generally need to be allocated equally, if you have evidence to show that your spouse “wasted” marital assets such as by buying gifts for someone they were having an affair with, then the court may allocate all of that debt to your spouse. Early in the process, you may not know which information is important, so keep your own separate copy of everything.

It is a good idea to consult an attorney for guidance during the planning process. You should also consider a plan for informing your spouse about the intent to file divorce. If you believe your spouse could be angry, make a plan to protect yourself and your children, and be sure to have a safe place to stay.

If your spouse surprises you with a divorce petition and you have not had time to plan, collect what records you can and find an attorney who you trust to protect your interests.

Step 2: Start the Legal Process

If you will be filing for divorce, you need to prepare the paperwork and file it in the court. Then you must ensure that copies of the appropriate documents are “served” on your spouse, which is a way of saying that they must be delivered in a way that complies with the legal requirements.

The spouse receiving divorce papers has 30 days to prepare and file a response. That response must be served on the spouse who filed for divorce.

Step 3: Sharing Financial Information

California law requires spouses to share true and complete financial information about assets and debts. Preliminary disclosures generally must be made within 60 days of filing your petition or response.

Of course, a spouse who is trying to hide assets or who is not organized may not disclose everything, which is why it is so important to take steps to gather your information whenever possible. When you suspect a spouse may be hiding assets, it can be worthwhile to consult a forensic accountant who can investigate. Your attorney can also use discovery tools to collect information when your spouse is not willing to freely cooperate. At some point, you will need to make or waive a final disclosure of financial information.

Step 4: Developing the Terms of Your Divorce

The next “step” actually involves numerous tasks, so it is really a series of steps. You need to establish all the terms of your divorce, meaning how your property is classified and divided, whether one spouse will pay alimony, and the terms for custody and child support. You can develop the terms together with your spouse through a collaborative process or you can make your best case in court and have the judge decide. In some cases, couples negotiate and reach agreement on some aspects of the divorce and ask the court to settle the remaining issues.

Once the issues are settled and written out, the court will review the terms and issue a signed judgment. The terms will be legally binding on both spouses, so if you ever want to make changes in the future, you need to get court approval.

Get Advice and Guidance Through Each Step of Your Divorce

It is expensive to divide one household into two, so many couples try to keep divorce costs down by handling matters without an attorney. This can actually cost them quite a bit more in the long run. The Certified Family Law Specialists at Holstrom, Block & Park, APLC, know which steps to take to protect your rights and interests and the methods to keep costs low. Whether you are just considering divorce or need help in the midst of the process, we invite you to schedule a consultation to learn how we can assist.