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How to get a divorce in California

Want to get around the mandatory 6-month waiting period? Use on online divorce service with a private judge.

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The divorce process can be complicated, overwhelming and costly. We’re here to unravel and lay out the logistics of a California divorce, from residency requirements to costs and procedures.

Requirements to get divorced in California

To get a divorce in California, you’ll need to meet residency requirements for the county and the state. You or your spouse must have:

  • Lived in California for at least six months
  • Lived in the county the divorce will be filed in for at least three months

The person who meets these requirements can initiate the divorce process by filing a divorce petition.

What are the grounds for divorce in California?

California is a no-fault divorce state and only has two grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences or insanity.

Irreconcilable differences can include anything from the fact you and your spouse just can’t get along to adultery or abuse. Unlike some states, you don’t need to show fault to end the marriage.

The other grounds for divorce is if your spouse is permanently and legally declared insane or unable to make decisions.

Quick facts about divorce in California

  • Community distribution state
  • Divorce filings are public record
  • Mandatory six-month waiting period from filing to finalize your divorce and have the decree issued
  • California Department of Public Health only issues divorce certificates for divorces between 1962 and June 1984 — otherwise you must get your certificate through the California County Superior Court that issued the divorce decree

Average cost of divorce in California

At a minimum, you’ll need to pay the $435 filing fee to get divorced in California. The spouse that files a response to that divorce petition will also pay a $435 filing fee. You’ll also need to factor in photocopies and mailing costs.

Using online divorce services

You can expect to pay between $150 and $6,000 to use an online divorce service, plus your state filing fee. Some providers offer add-ons where they take care of serving your spouse the divorce papers and filing your case at the courthouse on your behalf for an additional fee.

These legal preparatory services help you complete your divorce documents without hiring a lawyer. They’re one of the cheapest ways to get divorced for uncontested cases — where you and your spouse agree on the divorce terms.

Hiring lawyers

The average cost for a divorce in California is $17,500 when hiring divorce attorneys, according to a study by Martindale Nolo Research.

If your divorce is relatively simple, the cost will be around a few thousand dollars at a minimum. For complicated divorces (for example, those involving child custody), the cost could be as high as $38,000.

Typically, lawyers will bill you hourly — $330 per hour on average. If you choose to hire divorce lawyers, consider negotiating a flat fee for your divorce.

Doing it yourself

If you choose to go about the divorce process on your own, it could cost you as little as $500 for your state’s filing and court fees when you submit your divorce packet. But you’ll need to compile all the required legal forms on your own — either from your county clerk office or online.

Aside from the $435 filing fee, other costs involved with a DIY divorce in California might include:

  • Certified copies of marriage dissolution record: $10 to $15
  • Filing affidavit of publication of notice of dissolution of partnership: $30
  • Additional motions filed: $25 to $60
  • Child custody evaluation: Amount set by court
  • Court-appointed counsel for child: Amount set by court

What if I can’t afford the filing fee for a divorce in California?

If you’re receiving public benefits, if your household income falls below a certain threshold or if paying for the court fees will prevent you from being able to afford your household’s basic needs, you can apply for a fee waiver.

As of February 2019, the income threshold to be approved for a fee waiver ranges from $1,264.59 per month before taxes for a single-person household to $3,514.59 per month before taxes for a six-person household. If your income is above that threshold, you may still qualify for a fee waiver based on your income, money and property holdings, and monthly expenses and deductions.

How long does it take to get a divorce in California?

It takes at least six months before a divorce through the court system can be finalized in California, due to its mandatory waiting period. However, some online divorce services like Wevorce that use private arbitration are able to issue your decree immediately.

The average divorce with divorce attorneys takes 15 months to complete, according to a study by Martindale Nolo Research. Whether you have children with your spouse affects this timing: It takes about 12 months if you don’t have children and about 18 months if you do.

Divorcing couples who can’t agree generally end up dragging out the divorce process, leading to a lengthy, expensive and public court hearing. The more issues you and your spouse can resolve on your own, the faster and cheaper it’ll be.

Can I get a divorce in California without going to court?

Yes, most uncontested divorces can be handled outside of a courtroom. If you and your spouse can agree to the terms of the divorce, you can choose to get an online divorce, do it yourself or hire lawyers.

A contested divorce occurs when you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye on at least one issue. You can still get a divorce without heading into the courtroom if you opt for a collaborative divorce — where the lawyers negotiate — or try mediation or arbitration.

Compare online divorce services

If you want some guidance through the divorce process, but don’t want to hire an attorney, take a look at a few online divorce services:

Name Product Cost Includes filing papers with court? File without spouse Legal assistance available Customer service
3 Step Divorce
$299 - $336
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
No
Phone, Email
File within one business day of your start date with 3StepDivorce and qualify for a $50 cash rebate. Payment plans available.
LegalZoom online divorce
$499
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
Yes
Phone, Email, Live chat
File for an uncontested divorce online or find legal resources to help guide you through the divorce process.
OnlineDivorce.com
$139
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
No
Phone, Email
Ready-to-file divorce forms for one flat fee. Step-by-step directions to help simplify uncontested divorces.
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Compare up to 4 providers

How to get a divorce online in California

To get a divorce online in California, you’ll generally need to be going through an uncontested divorce and meet the state residency requirements. If you meet these criteria, you’ll answer a questionnaire and the online divorce service will use your responses to fill in the relevant fields of your legal forms.

Once your legal forms are complete, you’ll sign, notarize and file them with your local court. Online divorce services vary greatly by price and features, so shop around to find one that best fits your budget and needs.

Case study: Adrienne's experience

Adrienne Fuller profile photo
Adrienne Fuller
Head of Publishing

I chose to get an online divorce for a few reasons. In California, divorce filings through the court are considered public record. There is also a six-month waiting period between filing and receiving the divorce decree.

I needed the decree to be able to refinance my mortgage and sell my half of my house to my ex. So we used online divorce service Wevorce, which is considered private arbitration. There was no waiting period for a decree, and the agreements and legal documents are private. And we were able to avoid the lawyer expenses and going to court.

The process was tough for me to understand because I had never been through it before. The online process also differs from the regular court process. Trying to understand the differences, in comparison to what little I already knew, took some time. Thankfully, my private judge at Wevorce was super helpful in making sure all of my questions got answered in a way I could understand.

It took less than 30 days for me to start and complete my divorce online. Since a divorce would’ve probably taken a year going through the court system, choosing the online route was totally worth it for me.

Bottom line

If you and your spouse meet the state and county residency requirements to file for divorce in California, the next step is figuring out your approach. If your divorce is uncontested, your cheapest option is to use an online divorce service or compile the documents and fill them out yourself. But you’ll likely need to hire a lawyer for help if you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye on everything.

You can learn more about the process of consciously uncoupling with our guide to filing for divorce

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46 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    DavidJanuary 16, 2020

    My spouse hasnt paid for there end of the filing of papers

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoJanuary 16, 2020Staff

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment and I hope you are doing well. Sorry to hear your spouse hasn’t completed her end of the documents. As filing a divorce is also a partnership, it would be a good idea to speak to your spouse and make sure you both are in the same page. Otherwise, if this is a contested divorce, where you do not agree on the terms, as it says on the page above, Here are a few alternative paths:

      Mediation: Someone impartial helps you and your spouse come to an agreement.
      Collaborative divorce: You and your spouse negotiate an agreement through lawyers trained in collaborative law.
      You can find more information about mediation and collaborative divorce at the California Courts website.

      Hope this helps and feel free to reach out to us again for further assistance.

      Best,
      Nikki

  2. Default Gravatar
    PhungMay 24, 2019

    I want to get divorce. How can I start the process. Do I need a lawyer. We have a child together. I want custody of a child just only me and getting a child support from him. What should I do.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      BellaMay 25, 2019Staff

      Hi Phung,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      To start the divorce process, you need to first discuss your situation with your spouse. This will determine whether you will be having a contested divorce or uncontested divorce and whether you will be appearing before a court or not.

      Depending on how you want your divorce to be handled, you can speak to a lawyer to explore different courses of action. Of course, you also have the option to handle your divorce case without legal help, but this can be a difficult route to take especially if you don’t have any legal background.

      In regards to the child’s custody, when courts make their custody awards, their primary concern is crafting a plan that is in each child’s best interests. To do this, California courts consider a list of factors including the age of the child, emotional ties between the parents and child, any history of violence or abuse, and the ability of each parent to take care of the child. Nevertheless, it’s still best to seek advice from a U.S. divorce lawyer for divorce filing.

      I hope this helps.

      Kind regards,
      Bella

  3. Default Gravatar
    StephanieMarch 31, 2019

    Hi, how do I start my divorce process?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaApril 2, 2019Staff

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for getting in touch with Finder. I hope all is well with you.

      To start the divorce process, you need to first discuss your situation with your spouse. This will determine whether you will be having a contested divorce or uncontested divorce and whether you will be appearing before a court or not.

      Depending on how you want your divorce to be handled, you can speak to a lawyer to explore different courses of action. Of course, you also have the option to handle your divorce case without legal help, but this can be a difficult route to take especially if you don’t have any legal background.

      What I can suggest is for you to visit the California Courts website to learn more.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Joshua

  4. Default Gravatar
    AprilFebruary 10, 2019

    My husband and I want a divorce. We don’t own property and he has been the breadwinner of marriage. We agreed that we’ll split custody of our 2 boys. I don’t have any money to my name. We share one bank account and keep a huge majority of our savings in cash in a safe. He is the one that keeps it away from me. I don’t want to ruin him financially. I want to know my rights. Thank you.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JhezFebruary 11, 2019Staff

      Hello April,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Upon checking, regarding the child’s custody, when courts make their custody awards, their primary concern is crafting a plan that is in each child’s best interests. To do this, California courts consider a list of factors including the age of the child, emotional ties between the parents and child, any history of violence or abuse, and the ability of each parent to take care of the child.

      If the savings is within your marriage, they call it marital asset or property which both of you have to divide fairly. If your assets and debts are easy to understand, you and your spouse can try to work out your own property settlement which will help keep costs low. If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement on how to divide your property and debt, the judge will decide for you.

      You may want to talk to a lawyer if you cannot safely negotiate or if your assets and debts are complicated.

      Regards,
      Jhezelyn

  5. Default Gravatar
    MikeFebruary 6, 2019

    My wife just filed a petition for divorce (the dissolution of marriage) in California, but my wife and I both have lived in Canada separately for the past 7 months. Does she meet the residency requirements for filing the divorce petition in California?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JhezFebruary 7, 2019Staff

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you for your comment.

      In California, either you or your spouse must have been a state resident for at least six months prior to filing. You also must have lived a minimum of three months in the county you are filing for divorce within.

      If you do not meet the residency requirements to file for divorce in California, you can file for a legal separation until you meet the requirements for divorce.

      Regards,
      Jhezelyn

  6. Default Gravatar
    TiffanyJanuary 6, 2019

    If I use the online services will I have to pay court fees too

    • Default Gravatar
      EllieJanuary 7, 2019

      Hi Tiffany,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder!

      Upon checking, you may pay additional court fees depending on your county and state. These fees are in addition to fees for document preparation. I hope this helps. Please feel free to let us know if you have further questions.

      Best,
      Ellie

  7. Default Gravatar
    MichelleJanuary 3, 2019

    If on the same day my husband and I were married we went to an attorney to start the process of gifting his mother’s house to him, am I entitled to the property? I’m in California. He also sold property he inherited in Mexico and still has one more house that he is trying to sell. Am I entitled to any of that money?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaJanuary 6, 2019Staff

      Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      Typically, your marriage contract should be filed first to make your marriage legal. This means that you would most probably not be able to start the process of gifting your mother’s house to your husband on the same day as your wedding. You would need to wait until your marriage contract has been properly filed.

      In regards to the profit your husband obtained, as long as your marriage is legally binding, you would most probably have a portion of everything your husband has unless there are other laws that might prohibit you. It would be best to speak to a lawyer to obtain more personalized advice.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Joshua

  8. Default Gravatar
    dNovember 25, 2018

    if I’ve already filed the divorce paper but later they sent me a letter saying that there they rejcted my request for paying the fees as a person with low income. can I pay online? or what are the ways to pay the fees without having the need to present there again?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoNovember 30, 2018Staff

      Hi D,

      Thanks for getting in touch! You can try to file the divorce papers again and online and when you do this, you will be requested to pay through the mode of payment you choose to start the process. On our page above, go to the part that says: How to get a divorce online and you’ll see a step by step guide on how to get started. Hope this was helpful. Don’t hesitate to message us back if you have more questions.

      Best,
      Nikki

  9. Default Gravatar
    DagmaNovember 13, 2018

    If you and your ex agrees on the divorce, do you have to report each’s income on the filing papers?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JhezNovember 16, 2018Staff

      Hello Dagma,

      Thank you for your comment.

      According to the guide, if you are seeking a divorce and have children of the marriage, each spouse’s financial information and the details of the arrangement should be provided to the court. The court needs to know the income of each of the spouses so the court can confirm the child support is in accordance with the child support guidelines or is otherwise reasonable.

      You may please refer to a legal adviser that handles divorce the other ways of not enclosing your income to the documents.

      Should you wish to have real-time answers to your questions, try our chat box on the lower right corner of our page.

      Regards,
      Jhezelyn

  10. Default Gravatar
    DianeOctober 30, 2018

    The fee is actually $450, not $435.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      AnndyNovember 11, 2018Staff

      Hi Diane,

      Thanks for your feedback.

      Upon checking, the statewide uniform filing fee in California is $ 435 and depending on the county, additional fees may apply that is why in some counties they charge $450.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Anndy

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