How to get a divorce in California: Forms, costs and how to start

How to get a divorce in California

There are various ways to get a divorce, but not all of them need to be difficult.

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By the time you or your loved one has come to the difficult decision to divorce, the last thing you want to think about is navigating a potentially complicated and expensive process. If you and your spouse can agree on the terms of the divorce, for example, you may be able to complete the process online.

Here’s what you need to know to get started in California: the requirements, the costs and paths you can take to complete your divorce.

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Can I get a divorce in California?

To get a divorce in California, 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.

If you meet these requirements, you or your spouse can initiate the divorce process by filing a divorce petition.

In California, you do not need to prove any wrongdoing on your spouse’s part to get a divorce. (California was the first state to offer no-fault divorces.) The most common reason given for divorce is “irreconcilable differences,” and you can get a divorce even without your spouse agreeing to it.

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

Whether you need to go to court depends on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested. Before you and your spouse can be divorced, you both need to reach an agreement on the divorce terms.

Contested divorce

If you do not agree on the terms, your divorce is contested. In this case, the issues you and your spouse disagree on may need to be settled by a court.

Even if you and your spouse disagree on some issues, you do not necessarily need to go to court. 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.

Uncontested divorce

If you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce (meaning you have an uncontested divorce), you do not have to appear in court. It is possible to complete your divorce by drafting an agreement and filling out the appropriate forms, then sending them to the court.

There are various ways to complete an uncontested divorce, including:

  • Doing it yourself. Handling the divorce process yourself can be complicated, but it is possible. Learn more about the process at the California Courts website.
  • Using an online divorce service. Online services like Wevorce and MyDivorcePapers offer self-guided divorce preparation. They can cost more than preparing your divorce entirely on your own, but they streamline the process by giving you structure and guidance.
  • Hiring lawyers. Family law lawyers can prepare your divorce and provide personalized guidance throughout the process. As we’ll discuss in the next section, this will likely be your most expensive option.

How much will it cost?

The filing fee for a divorce petition is $435. For the spouse filing a response to that petition, the fee is also $435. You may pay additional court fees depending on your county.

Additional costs for your divorce will vary depending on which route you take to resolve it. Here are approximate costs for various paths.

Doing it yourself

Preparing your divorce yourself will cost little to nothing besides additional court fees you may need to pay. However, the process takes more time, because you will need to conduct your own research and ensure you have filled out the divorce forms correctly.

Hiring lawyers

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

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.

Using online divorce services

Online divorce services typically cost around a few hundred dollars. Costs vary depending on the benefits offered. For example, some services only help you prepare the right forms; others provide tutorials, professional review of your documents and spousal-support plans.

To give you an idea of the range of costs, here are a few online divorce websites and what they charge:

  • MyDivorcePapers: $159
  • Wevorce: $749
  • CompleteCase: $299

How long will it take?

By law, it will take at least six months before a divorce is finalized. Time starts ticking from when the divorce petition is served to the spouse or when the spouse responds (whichever comes first).

A divorce may take longer than six months, depending on the complexity of issues in the divorce and how much you and your spouse can agree on the terms.

Issues that could lengthen the divorce process include:

  • Division of property
  • Custody of children
  • Child support
  • Visitation rights
  • Alimony

According to a study by Martindale Nolo Research, the average divorce takes 15 months to complete with divorce attorneys. Whether you have children with your spouse affects this timing: about 12 months if no children and about 18 months if children are involved.

If you and your spouse agree on most issues, the details of your divorce could be settled relatively quickly. For example, an online service for uncontested divorces can help a couple come to a resolution in as little as a month. (By law, however, it takes six months before the marriage is legally ended.)

How do I prepare for filing online?

Online divorce services are for couples who can work together on divorce terms and who agree on most issues. To use one, you need to:

  • Know where your spouse is.
  • Agree with your spouse on division of the assets and property, as well as child-related matters.

Once you purchase a plan with your online divorce service, you will be given the relevant divorce forms for your county.

How to get a divorce online

Online divorce services like Wevorce and MyDivorcePapers make it easy to quickly get the divorce process rolling.

While the signup process may vary by service, in general you’ll:

  1. Go to the online divorce service website.
  2. Enter your name and contact information.
  3. Specify where you’re filing and whether you have children.
  4. Indicate your spouse’s information and whether you know their whereabouts.
  5. Enter a payment method and confirm to start the process.
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Getting a divorce online — now what?

If you’ve signed up for an online divorce service, you will be presented with the divorce forms you need to complete. You will also be given instructions on how to file the documents with your local court.

Rest assured that your online divorce service will guide you from the beginning to the end of the process, when you can move on to healing.

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44 Responses

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. Default Gravatar
    AnonymousOctober 30, 2018

    If both parties are willing and agree on everything, what is the best route to take? If filing online (CA residents) do both parties still have to pay the $435 court fee?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JhezOctober 31, 2018Staff

      Hello,

      Thank you for your comment.

      If both parties agree on all major issues, known as an uncontested divorce, you can keep the costs relatively low. If you do your own divorce papers and your divorce is amicable, costs could be under $500. Of course, there are filing fees in all states, which increase the cost.

      You’ll be best to seek an advice from a U.S. divorce lawyer for divorce filing.

      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

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