California Divorce FAQs

Get answers to common questions about divorce in California.

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California was the first state to implement the "no-fault divorce" concept. This means neither spouse has to accuse the other of marital misconduct; if the marriage has broken down due to irreconcilable differences, the couple can get a divorce. 

This article answers some frequently asked questions about divorce (legally referred to as "dissolution of marriage") in California. 


What are the grounds for a divorce?

California was the first state to adopt the "no-fault divorce" concept. In California, a dissolution of marriage can be granted if the court finds that "irreconcilable differences" have caused an irrevocable breakdown of the marriage. In effect, this simply means that a married person who wants to end the marriage can do so, even if the other spouse wants to stay together. 

Are there any residency requirements in order to obtain a dissolution of marriage?

Yes. To get a divorce in California, at least one of the spouses has to have been a resident of the state for at least six months before filing the divorce petition. You must also live in the county where you file the divorce petition for at least three months before filing. 

After the dissolution case is filed, how long does it take to get a divorce?

Once you file the divorce petition and serve it on your spouse, you will have to wait at least six months for your divorce to be finalized. 

What is the process for getting a divorce in California?

If you have been married for less than five years, have no children, don't own real estate, and have relatively limited property and debts, you may qualify for a summary dissolution. This is a simpler process, which generally doesn't require an appearance before a judge. You and your spouse must create an agreement about how you will divide your property and debts, and file it -- along with a joint divorce petition and other required forms -- with the court. Although you still have to wait six months before your divorce becomes final, you don't have to go through a lot of the procedures and appearances required for a regular divorce. You can find more information on summary dissolution in California in, "California Summary Dissolution: The Simple Divorce". 

If you don't qualify for a summary dissolution, a typical dissolution of marriage requires the following steps:

  1. One spouse files a divorce petition and serves it on the other spouse (called the respondent). 
  2. The respondent then has thirty days to file a response to the petition. 
  3. One of the spouses may request temporary court orders by filing for an Order to Show Cause hearing. At this hearing, the judge will make temporary child custody, support, and restraining orders.
  4. The spouses then engage in discovery, which is the process by which they exchange information and documents that are relevant to the divorce. One of the required aspects of discovery is the preparation of the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. This is a court form in which each spouse lists the community and separate property. As part of this disclosure, the parties are also required to exchange income and expense declarations. 
  5. After the discovery is complete, the spouses and their attorneys (if they are represented) will discuss settlement of the case. If the case is resolved by agreement, one of the attorneys will prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement, which should include all of the terms of the agreement. This is a contract that is signed by the spouses and their attorneys.
  6. If the parties are not able to agree on all of the issues in the case, a trial will take place.
  7. After the parties sign the Marital Settlement Agreement or after the trial has concluded, one of the attorneys will prepare a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. This is the document that contains all of the court's orders. The judgment is filed and the court mails a Notice of Entry of Judgment to each attorney.

For more on your options to proceed with a divorce, see The Divorce Process.

What else should I know?

If you're considering a divorce, there are several major issues you have to consider. You'll need to understand how property and debt will be split between you and your spouse, who will get custody of any children, who will pay child and or spousal support (alimony), and how much. You can find legal information on all of these topics and more in our section on California Divorce and Family Laws.

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