What Do I Have to Do Before I File For Divorce In California?

Most people tend to live their lives in a way that avoids the legal system and all that it entails: confusing courthouses and filing windows; complicated and non-user-friendly documents and forms; judges, clerks, bailiffs, and, of course, attorneys; and the overall unpredictability and uncertainty that comes with having your future in the hands of a process that you don’t understand. So if you’ve managed to avoid getting in trouble with the law or being involved in a lawsuit, an impending divorce may be your first brush with the legal system, and you likely do not know where to even begin.

One question that people who are entering into the divorce process in California have is how to file for divorce, and what needs to be done prior to that filing.

Filing for divorce in California – technically called a dissolution of marriage – is relatively simple, and perhaps one of the simplest parts of the process, yet still very important. First off, you do need to have lived in California for six months prior to filing, although there is no requirement that you were married in California or that your spouse live here (that said, if your spouse has little to no connection to California and/or the relevant property is located elsewhere, you should speak with an attorney about whether it makes sense to file in California).

Initiating Your Divorce With California’s FL-100

California family courts use a form called the FL-100 that serves as the Petition for Dissolution (in other words, the document that you file to “file for divorce”) that generally asks you to give some basic information about the marriage and what you are seeking in the divorce.

For example, with regard to information about the marriage, you will need to provide information about when you married, when you separated (this is a more complex and legally significant question than you may think, so take caution here), the minor children, and the property in the marriage, although you can provide a limited answer to this last prompt and later provide detail. Consult with a lawyer before you list your date of separation on your form since there are legal implications such as the date your retirement and pension is divided, division of bonus income, whether property is community or separate.

With regard to what you are seeking in the divorce, you will need to notify the court what kind of custodial arrangement you are seeking for the children (e.g. sole or joint legal and physical custody); whether you are seeking spousal support; whether there is property for the court distribute; and any other requests.

At this point, you don’t need to know the specifics on the above issues – e.g. what the custody schedule will be or what support number you want – but you do need to generally make the court aware of what the issues are, although you can always file an amended Petition if things change.
Should I Speak With a Lawyer Before Filing?
While filling out the FL-100 and having it filed does not need to be a long process (you can conceivably fill it out and file it on the same day), and, as stated above, you are only putting limited information in the Petition which can later be amended, it makes sense for many people to work with a family law attorney prior to filing the FL-100.

Make no mistake, filing the FL-100 does not make you divorced (and, yes, people do make this particular mistake in thinking all the time), and, even under the best possible circumstances, your divorce will not be final until six months after you file the Petition and serve the Petition and Summons on the other spouse, so you should not rush this process.

When you do serve the Petition and Summons on the other spouse (it must be served in person by an adult person other than you), he or she is going to obviously be put on notice of the pending divorce and what you are asking for, and it may be difficult to predict how they are going to react. They may take improper actions with regards to both finances and children, among other things.

By working with an experienced family law attorney prior to filing the Petition, you can not only ensure that you are taking the proper steps to file, but also take steps to prevent unfortunate actions by the other spouse or others that can hurt your interests. You would want to discuss with your lawyer how to pay living expenses, use of bank accounts, use of social media accounts, funding the divorce, how to ensure credit card bills are paid timely. If you have already filed the Petition, you can of course still work with an attorney, and it is often the case that attorneys enter into a case only after it has been filed.

Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.