If you're representing yourself in a divorce, you'll need to complete some standard forms to begin the divorce process. You can obtain the forms on the California Courts website. The California Courts site provides instructions for every form, and it's a good idea to review them as you work your way through the divorce process.
Each of California's courts use the same basic set of divorce forms, but you may have to complete additional forms depending on where you live. California has a number of legal self-help centers throughout the state. If you have questions about which forms to use, visit one of the legal self-help centers or talk with your local court clerk.
The Los Angeles Superior Court website is a good example of what you can expect to find when you navigate to your county court's website and divorce forms index. It provides links for all the local forms that Los Angeles County judges will expect you to submit along with the basic, statewide California forms.
When you complete the forms, be thorough and accurate in your responses. You don't want to make a mistake on your divorce papers. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, be sure to write or print neatly and legibly.
Generally speaking, you can expect to find two kinds of divorce documents: one for the petitioner (the spouse who is requesting the divorce) and one for the respondent (the spouse who has been served with divorce papers).
If you are the petitioner and you're beginning the divorce process:
If you're the respondent and you've been served with the petitioner's initial divorce papers:
When you're ready, go to your local courthouse and ask to file the documents. At a minimum, you'll be filing the summons, petition, and, if you have children, the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
You'll need to pay a fee unless you complete the Request to Waive Court Fees (Form FW-001), which will be reviewed by the court. Keep in mind that you may be asked to provide detailed financial information to prove to the judge you're not misrepresenting your assets. If the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you can't afford it, you won't have to pay to file documents in your case. There's more information about fee waivers on California's Court website.
You'll submit your forms to the clerk of court, who will them stamp then and give you copies. Serve your spouse with a copy of the stamped documents as soon as possible after leaving.
When you've prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately serve (deliver) your divorce documents to your spouse. Service of process is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what's going on and an opportunity to "appear," or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures that no one is ever ambushed at a court hearing.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse at his or her home or work address. If your spouse has hired an attorney, you may be able to serve your spouse's lawyer at the lawyer's offices if the lawyer agrees to accept service.
As the petitioner, you cannot "serve" your spouse by merely handing over the divorce papers. Instead, you can serve your documents by having a county sheriff, professional process server, or a responsible friend or relative over the age of 18 who is not involved in the case, hand deliver them to your spouse.
If you think your spouse will cooperate, you can use service by mail and provide a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt (Family Law Form FL-117), which your spouse will have to complete and return to you for filing with the court.
Make sure to serve copies of everything you filed with the court, plus a blank response form and a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act form. For more information about service, review the Filing and Service Information page on the California Courts website.
Different rules may apply if you're trying to serve someone who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more information about these unusual situations.
After the case begins, you also have to provide information about your financial status to the court and your spouse. This information will help a judge decide how to divide property in your divorce.
You'll need to complete the Declaration of Disclosure (Family Law Form FL-140) and either the Income and Expense Declaration (Family Law Form FL-150) or the Financial Statement (Simplified Family Law Form FL-155). To decide whether to use the declaration or the financial statement, view these instructions.
You'll also need to complete the Schedule of Assets and Debts (Family Law Form FL-142). Notice that the Schedule of Assets and Debts form should not be filed with the court, but you should provide a copy to your spouse. You will also need to complete and file the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Family Law Form FL-141), which is proof that you gave this document to your spouse.
These documents will provide complete information about income, expenses, assets, and debts. You may also have to attach supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, or whether one spouse should receive alimony.
Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. You'll need to serve these forms on your spouse, and file your proof of service with the court.
If you need extra help or more information in the divorce process, contact the Law Help of California or the California State Bar. Additional divorce information, forms and limited representation are available to those who qualify for services.