California Divorce: Does It Make a Difference Who Files First?

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 What Do I Need to Do to File for Divorce In California?

In order to start the divorce process, the parties must first check that they meet California’s residency requirements. According to California divorce law, this means that one or both parties must have lived in California for at least 6 months and within the county where they intend to file for the past 3 months. If both time frames are satisfied, then the parties will be eligible to file for divorce in the state.

If you and your spouse do not meet California’s residency requirements, you can still file for a legal separation. Once you and/or your spouse become eligible to file for divorce (i.e., meet the residency requirements), you can then ask the court for a divorce by filing an amended petition.

Alternatively, if you and your spouse have been married for less than five years, you may qualify for summary dissolution. Summary dissolution is a quicker and easier way to obtain a divorce. However, this option is not always available to every couple since there are certain requirements that must be met for summary dissolution as well. Thus, most couples who want to dissolve their marriage in California will have to go through the standard divorce process.

How Long Will it Take to Get a Divorce in California?

Assuming both parties are already residents of the state, the divorce process in California can take anywhere from 6 months to several years depending on how complicated the issues are and what other factors are involved in the matter. Also, while a divorce in California can always take longer than 6 months, a divorce can never be resolved in less than 6 months due to a mandatory waiting period required by state divorce law.

Once a couple determines they have met California’s residency requirements, they will need to fill out some forms to file for divorce. The party who is filing for divorce (i.e., the petitioner) must fill out and file a Petition and Summons with the court clerk.

If they need additional room to declare property and/or have children who are under the age of 18, the petitioner will also have to fill out and file a Property Declaration and Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Enforcement Act forms.

After the necessary paperwork has been filed with the court clerk, the petitioner must serve a copy of the documents on the other spouse and complete a Proof of Service of Summons form to notify the court that they have been served. The other spouse will then have 30 days to file a response.

In addition, there are also several financial disclosure forms the petitioner will have to fill out and serve on the respondent. These forms do not need to be filed in court, but both parties do have to serve each other with a copy within 60 days from when the divorce petition was filed.

The remaining steps will depend on what type of response the other spouse files (e.g., default, contested, or uncontested case). How the other party responds will dictate the remaining length of time left to resolve the case.

For instance, couples who are involved in a contested matter may experience a longer divorce process due to complicated issues, such as child custody conflicts or disputes over property.

On the other hand, couples who qualify for the aforementioned summary dissolution process, must still satisfy California’s residency requirements, but will most likely receive a divorce shortly after the requisite 6-month waiting period expires.

Is There Any Advantage to Filing for Divorce First in California?

There are several advantages to filing for divorce first in California. The main advantage is that the petitioner gets to set the tone of the divorce process. For instance, they can choose to either blindside their partner, which may lead to a contentious and drawn-out divorce, or they can inform them before they file the paperwork in court.

Parties who file for divorce first will also have control over the venue (e.g., the court and county where divorce proceedings will occur), time to search for the right attorney, and the ability to prepare themselves emotionally and financially for the process ahead.

Additionally, if there are concerns regarding alimony and/or child support payments, domestic violence issues, or the petitioner believes that their spouse may hide or spend assets before finalizing the divorce, then filing first will also give them additional time. This can help them request temporary support awards and legal documents that can help them to protect their interests.

What Documents Should I Get Copies of for My Divorce?

Regardless of whether a party is the petitioner or the respondent, they will need to provide and should retain copies of certain documents. The following is a list of documents and forms that may be required for completing the divorce process:

  • The Divorce Petition (Form FL-100);
  • Summons (Form FL-110);
  • Property Declaration (Form FL-160);
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105);
  • Child Custody and Visitation Application (Form FL-311);
  • Court Conference Hearing Date (Form FL-1050);
  • The Response (Form FL-120);
  • Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) or Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335);
  • Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140);
  • Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150);
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142);
  • Declaration Regarding Service (Form FL-141);
  • Any statements related to finances or property (e.g., deeds, bank statements, life insurance policies, credit cards, vehicle registrations, retirement accounts, etc.); and
  • Various other forms associated with the divorce proceeding (e.g., Judgment (Form FL-180)).

What are Things I Can Do if I am Thinking of Filing For a Divorce in California?

Aside from organizing important documents, finding a lawyer, and drafting a list of their property and/or assets, a person who is thinking of filing for divorce should:

  • Get their finances in order
  • Determine whether they will require spousal or child support, and
  • Consider what items they will be willing to compromise on or give up in the process

They should also visit the main website for California Courts to see if they are eligible for summary dissolution instead. Under California law, couples who meet certain requirements may choose to dissolve their marriage through summary dissolution (as opposed to the standard divorce process), which is a much faster and easier way to obtain a divorce.

What Does it Mean When I am Granted My Divorce?

Once the official divorce proceedings have concluded, the court will issue an order granting the parties’ divorce. This order will provide the date of when the marriage is legally considered to be dissolved, information about child custody and child visitation rights, instructions regarding property and/or asset divisions, and the guidelines for any alimony or child support payments.

The divorce decree also indicates that it is time for the couple to start living their separate lives if they have not already started doing so. This includes closing joint bank and credit card accounts, amending named beneficiaries in a will, removing recipients listed on life insurance or health insurance policies, and/or changing their income tax status.

Additionally, there may be many new physical and emotional adjustments the couple will need to make as well. This includes finding a place to live, complying with child custody and visitation schedules, and learning to live as a divided family.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Divorce in California?

Divorces can be hard to navigate without the support and assistance of a lawyer. There are many rules you must follow to complete the divorce process and even in cases that are seemingly straightforward, the parties must still appear before the court to receive the final divorce order. Thus, if you and your spouse intend to file for divorce, you should consider contacting a California divorce lawyer as soon as possible.

Your lawyer will be able to answer any questions or concerns you may have about your divorce, the steps to take to finish the process, and any relevant laws. Your lawyer will also be able to assist you with filing the necessary paperwork and can provide representation on your behalf during court appearances or mediation sessions.

Finally, if you are not pleased with the conditions of your divorce agreement, your lawyer can help you negotiate for more favorable terms.

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