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DIY Divorce Guide

The Basics of Divorce in California

Complete divorce guide with state requirements and laws.
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California Online Divorce Basics

This is a divorce reference guide to understanding divorce in California. Each state has its own requirements, laws, and documentation, so we decided to gather it all in one location to make it easy and quick for you to find the information you need before, during and after your divorce.

Divorce in California Made Easy

    • Time Frame After Initial Filing: The parties must wait six months before the action is final.
    • Where to File: Superior Court of California, County of ______________.
    • State Statutes: California Family Code.
    • Name of Action: Dissolution of Marriage.
    • Name of Parties: Petitioner and Respondent.
    • No Fault and Fault or No-Fault Only: California was the first no-fault state.
    • Primary Documents Filed: Summons and Petition for Dissolution and Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.
    • Physical Separation Required: No.
    • Separation Time Before Filing: None.
    • Legal Separation Permitted: Yes, with same grounds as dissolution of marriage.
    • Grounds: No-Fault, irreconcilable differences causing an irremediable breakdown of the marriage; incurable insanity.
    • Residency Requirement: Petitioner or respondent must be a resident of California for six months and of the county in which the proceeding is filed for three months next preceding the filing of the petition.
    • Mediation Required: May be required when parents cannot agree on parenting plan.
    • Counseling Required: The California courts do not offer nor require marriage counseling.
    • Parenting Classes Required: Judges may order parenting classes -- either in-person, online or video.

California courts often require all divorcing parents with minor children to complete a mandatory parenting class before finalizing a divorce. This California parenting class requirement is designed to help everyone – the parents and children -- deal with the trauma of divorce and separation. The purpose of the class is to get parents on the same page and better equipped to handle parenting situations post-divorce. Both parents are typically required to complete the class unless the court grants a waiver. Online parent education classes are widely recognized in California by county courts and government agencies because of the quality and convenience. The requirements of the course are set forth in California Code 3200-3204.

    • Filing Fee: Statewide fee is $435. (See Filing Fee Waiver Form)
    • Where to File for Child Support: Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) provides public child support enforcement. There are 64 Local Child Support Agencies.
    • Child Support Guidelines Model: Income Shares Model (Family Code Sections 4050-4076)

The Income Shares model, which explicitly takes into consideration the income and time each parent has custody of the child, is spelled out in the California Statewide Uniform Guidelines. The services of California's Child Support Services Program are available through 48 county and regional child support agencies (LCSAs). The support programs for each county makes sure that court-ordered financial and medical support payments are enforced.

    • Property Division: Community, which means "all community property and debt acquired from the date of marriage until the marital cut-off date is divided and distributed equally."
    • Appreciation of Separate Property: Remains separate.
    • Attendance at Hearing: In uncontested actions, neither spouse must appear in court. If there are minor children involved it is the judges discretion.
    • Fault Considered in Property Division: The court does not consider marital fault, but in the event of economic misconduct, the court may also award, from one spouse's share, an amount the court determines he or she deliberately misappropriated to the detriment of the other spouse.
    • Waiting Period to Re-Marry: None.
    • Ways to Serve Spouse: In all divorce actions in California except summary, the divorce papers delivered by the server at the onset of the action are 1) the summons - family law, 2) the petition for divorce, and 3) a blank response form. Forms of service are personal, by mail, substituted service, service by notice and acknowledgement of receipt, and service by publication.
    • Divorce Records: The California Department of Public Health Vital Records (CDPH)

The California Department of Public Health Vital Records (CDPH) keeps all birth, death, marriage and divorce records for the state. Typically only family members can obtain certified copies of vital statistic records, but if you are looking for information about divorce and do not need a certified copy, then you would be able to request this information from the California Department of Public Health. CDPH began keeping records in 1905, so if you are looking for divorce records prior to this date, then you would need to contact the clerk in the county where the divorce was filed and granted.

If you actually need a copy of your Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, then you need to contact the California Superior Court in the county where you filed the divorce and the divorce was granted. CDPH has divorce records from 1962 to 1984, but a copy of the final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage can only be obtained in the county where the divorce was filed.

If you are only looking for the certificate, which is a summary that includes the names of the spouses, the county where the divorce was filed, the court case number, and some other information, then you can contact the California Department of Public Health, Vital Records, Post Office Box 997410, Sacramento, California 95899-7410.


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