How to file for divorce in California

In general, filing a family law case is fairly simple. For a divorce or paternity case, the process is about the same. You need to file a Summons (different for each case), which basically just identifies you and your opponent and states that you are suing your opponent. With the Summons, you have to file a Petition (again, different for divorce and paternity), which is the ‘meat’ of the filing. The Petition specifies what’s going on and what you want, and defines the universe of options for your case.

For example, as I mentioned in an earlier post, if you want to be able to get spousal support at any time during your case, you MUST mark that box in your Petition. If you don’t, then it comes off the table completely. You need to file your Petition correctly, and there can be tricky elements, but for the most part it is fairly simple.

Finally, if you have children, you need to file the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This form sounds scarier than it is, as it’s simply where your child has lived for the last five years.

Of course, if you are asking for any orders, such as a custody or visitation order, child or spousal support, or anything else, you have to file other forms. But merely filing your case involves just these three forms: Summons, Petition, and UCCJEA.

Forms in California divorce: Navigating the document overload

Forms, forms, forms. The life of a family law litigant is filled with forms. The first thing you will file is your Summons and Petition, then every time you want something, you will have to file another form (or two or three). Completing your case involves even more forms.

The bad news? The forms are complicated, confusing, and far from user-friendly. One example is just the title. The title of the form, the name of it, is located at the bottom of it, which is probably the last place you’d look for a title.

More bad news? You MUST fill out your forms properly to (1) convey what you want, (2) get what you want, (3) have your documents accepted by the court (and not kicked back unfiled), and (4) complete your case properly.

The worst bad news? Filling out a form can be devastating to your case. For example, if you fail to make the box for “spousal support” on the Petition for divorce when you first file, then you can never ask for it. Ever. (OK so there are ways to amend your Petition, but this is not easy or common, and is far from guaranteed). So if you file and do not ask for spousal support, then your ex, three years later when you’re still fighting, wins the lottery just as you lose your job, you’re out of luck.

Redeeming news? There’s help out there, all over the place. You can even fill out the forms online here: CA Judicial Council Forms. Just be careful.

Think your divorce will take six months? Think again

It is a common misconception that divorce in California takes six months.  The reality is that California has a waiting period of six months, which means that the earliest time that you can be divorced is six months and one day from the day you or your spouse is served with the divorce Petition.  The divorce process, however, bears no relationship to this timeline, and though some divorces can resolve before this, most divorces take much longer to settle.

The delay is caused by many factors. First, the courts in California are severely under funded, so the existing judges are doing the work of far more personnel, and the court staff is woefully lacking as well.  This means that the lead time to get in to see the judge for a hearing is much longer – 6-8 weeks if not more – and then follow-up hearings are also pushed out. It can take four months alone to have a temporary and review hearing on a common issue such as support or custody/visitation.

Second, the delay in the court hearings often inadvertently delays the resolution of the rest of the case.  Often what happens with the property depends on what happens with the children or support, so the parties are waiting for some kind of preliminary resolution on these issues before working on the property.  Financial reasons, too, can delay the process when one party needs an attorney’s help – or money for filing fees or mediation fees – but just can’t afford it.

Mediation and other out-of-court options can speed up the process significantly as well as keep costs down, but too many couples are unwilling to try mediation, or else they don’t know enough about the benefits.  In any event, the lengthy process of divorce is unlikely to speed up any time soon.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Signs your spouse is considering divorce

It is not uncommon for one spouse to be surprised, blindsided even, by the divorce filing of their spouse.  Often, though, the surprised spouse can look back in hindsight and see the signs.  Here are some:

  1. A new vocabulary.  If your spouse starts saying words like “custody” or “community property,” “date of separation” or “dissolution” even (and these terms may not be in the context of your marriage, but may be dropped in conversation about someone else, for example), then this may be a sign s/he is talking to a divorce attorney, or at least gathering information.
  2. Shifting of accounts or money.  If your spouse suddenly wants to move money around, it may be a sign of impending division.
  3. Changes in his or her relationship with family members.  If your spouse has been estranged from her mother during the marriage and now they’re tight, it may be because the rift was due to the marriage.  Now that it’s ending, the rift is healed…you just don’t know it yet.
  4. Super Parent, or changes in parenting.  A spouse getting a divorce may suddenly become super-parent, trying to establish a pattern of caring for children when that wasn’t necessarily the case before.  Your spouse may be setting the stage for the impending custody battle.
  5. Sudden reduction in work hours, overtime, or business.  Many spouses, in the face of paying child or spousal support, find themselves with less work, business, or overtime, and sometimes bosses are complicit with this temporary reduction to avoid higher support amounts.
  6. Secret conversations.  Catching your spouse spending money or talking to someone on the sly may not mean an affair – it may be an attorney or s/he may be talking to others about you.

Divorce is difficult in the best of circumstances.  If you keep your eyes and ears open, though, you may be able to avoid being taken by surprise.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

How couples who are married longer, and who are older, have “better” divorces. Or do they?

After seeing how a marriage and divorce, after less than three months (ahem, reality “star,” I am looking at you), can be a publicity stunt, the question arises how divorces differ when the couple has been married for a short time, and has little, or been married for a long time, and has, well, everything entwined.  Certainly, in either case there is the potential for a long, dragged out hostile divorce, just as there is the possibility of a quick and easy, amicable and professional divorce.  But a recent article delved more deeply into this issue.

Do those who are older, and married longer, make for wiser divorcing parties?  Or not?

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Sharing can make it easier in divorce

Divorce can be a lonely, isolating time, where you feel like you’re the only person in the world feeling what you’re feeling.  A recent article shares readers stories about when they decided to divorce.

When did you know/decide?

Why you may want to think twice before filing that nasty declaration

Terrence Howard is in the middle of a nasty divorce, with accusations flying wildly.  Divorce records are public records, so if you file something about your ex, anyone – including your children when they come of age and wonder what happened – can go to the courthouse and look up what you said about each other.  Bottom line: don’t file anything you wouldn’t want published in your local newspaper for everyone (your parents, your friends, your children, etc.) to see.