Heath-Newton LLP Counselors at Law

Bay Area Family Law Blog


4 Stages of the Divorce Process in California

As California divorce attorneys, we have guided our clients through hundreds of divorces.  We have found over and over again that clients feel less stress if they understand a little bit about the divorce process in California.  To that end, we’ve created this article to describe the basic steps in the California divorce process.

Before we begin, two quick points:

  • If you want to know how your individual situation fits into the divorce process in California, we suggest you consult with a qualified California divorce attorney or family law attorney.
  • We would be happy to speak with you ourselves.  If you would like a consultation, feel free to either email info@heathnewton.com or call 415.398.1290 to contact an attorney.

California Divorce:  The 4 Step Process

  1. Initial Filings – The Petition and Summons
  2. Financial Disclosures
  3. Discovery, Negotiations and Motions/Hearings (as needed)
  4. Resolution and Judgment

Step 1 of the Divorce Process in California:  Initial Filings

In order to start the divorce process in California, one spouse files for divorce by filling out two very basic court forms: the “Petition” and the “Summons.”  This initial paperwork is filed with the court, and then served upon the other spouse.  After being served, the other spouse has the option of also filing paperwork called the “Response.”  The Response is nearly identical to the Petition.

For all paperwork and court references, the spouse who filed the petition is referred to as the “petitioner” and the spouse who filed the response is called the “respondent”.

Once the first spouse is served with the Petition, the six-month waiting period to divorce begins.  That means that the court can award the divorce no earlier than six months from the time of service.

Step 2 of the Divorce Process in California:  Financial Disclosures

The second step in the California divorce process is the disclosure of financial information. Both spouses must disclose all assets, debts, and property rights, as well as their income and expenses. During this stage, both parties outline their positions as to whether the assets and debts are community or separate property.

This step is vital for several reasons.  First, California courts will not award a divorce if they parties have not exchanged financial disclosures.  Second, the penalties are quite high for failure to disclose assets.  Third, the parties need to know what all the assets and debts look like in order to negotiate settlement.

With that out of the way, we can move on to the third step of the divorce process in California.

Step 3 of the Divorce Process in California:  Negotiations and Hearings

During the third step of the divorce process, the spouses – usually with the assistance of their divorce attorneys – negotiate, in an attempt to reach a marital settlement agreement (“MSA”). If additional information is needed, your attorney may conduct discovery to collect needed information from the other side.

If the spouses need help working anything out, the court may become involved and hold hearings on motions made by either or both parties.  Motions can focus on child custody/visitation, support (child and/or spousal), property division or many other matters as needed.

The least expensive and most efficient option here is to negotiate and settle out of court.  Litigation should always be a last option, as it’s the most expensive.

Step 4 of the Divorce Process in California:  Resolution and Judgment

During step four, the divorce case is brought to a resolution either through agreement of the parties, or through litigation – and sometimes a combination of both.  Either way, the agreement is then memorialized in the MSA, and that is submitted to the court for approval.

The MSA outlines the couple’s entire agreement, including resolution of child custody, visitation, allocation of assets and debts, and all support issues.

This Agreement is then submitted to the Judge for review and signature.

  • Litigation is necessary if the couple can’t work out one or more of the terms of their Agreement.  If there is a breakdown of settlement, either party can ask the court for their assistance.   When the court becomes involved, the court will make a ruling which the couple must abide.
  • NOTE:  Certain provisions in a judgment can be modified when circumstances change.  For example, spousal and child support may be modified if one party’s income changes; child custody and visitation may similarly modified if there is a change of circumstances.

How to Learn More About the California Divorce Process

Our firm works primarily in the areas of California divorce, child custody and premarital agreements.  We’re always happy to discuss the divorce process in California with you.  Email or call us for a consultation.  We can be reached at info@heathnewton.com or call 415.398.1290.

Categories: Divorce

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