In California, there are generally two types of divorce: contested and uncontested. A divorce is "contested" when the spouses don't agree on some or all aspects of the divorce, meaning that a judge will hold a trial, examine the evidence, and call witnesses. The contested divorce process takes quite a while.
In contrast, in an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree on all of the issues required to end their marriage, so there's no need for the judge to hold a trial. An uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than traditional divorce—spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.
In California, an "uncontested divorce" essentially means that the spouses have agreed to divorce and have reached an agreement about all major issues involved in ending their marriage (more on that below).
Because there's no need for a trial or multiple court appearances, the most significant benefit of an uncontested divorce is that it is significantly less expensive than a traditional, contested divorce. You can also usually get an uncontested divorce relatively quickly.
California has an even more simplified divorce procedure known as summary dissolution, but you must meet a number of conditions to qualify.
You don't need to hire a lawyer to get an uncontested divorce in California, and you can represent yourself during the process. Spouses can try to handle everything themselves or use an online service that eases the process. Even though there's no court battle in an uncontested divorce, one or both spouses can hire attorneys to help them through the uncontested divorce. You might want to talk to a lawyer, for instance, if your case feels complex or you have unanswered questions.
In general, to get an uncontested divorce in California, you must meet all of the following criteria:
You and your spouse must create a written marital settlement agreement (also known as a stipulated judgment) that deals with all of the issues in your divorce, including:
Keep in mind that your agreement on child support must be in line with California's child support guidelines.
The stipulated judgment is a written contract between you and your spouse and is binding on both of you, so be sure that you understand the contents of the agreement. Once the agreement is complete, you must have it notarized.
If you're having trouble reaching an agreement on your own, you can get help from a mediator. (Learn how divorce mediation works in California.) And if you choose to work with an attorney, your lawyer can give you advice on your agreement and make sure you complete and file the paperwork correctly.
After you've finished creating your agreement, the next step to getting an uncontested divorce is to file the initial paperwork with the court. One spouse (the "petitioner") will file the divorce petition. The other spouse is called the "respondent." The petition explains to the court what you are seeking (dissolution of your marriage) and the legal ground (reason) for divorce. You must also include basic information about yourself and your spouse.
If you have children under the age of 18 with your spouse, you will need to fill out additional forms about the children, custody, and child support. If you need more room to list your property and debts, you must attach a Property Declaration. Visit the California Courts website for a complete list of forms and instructions. You can also use a service like DivorceNet's Online Divorce, which will gather and complete the forms for you.
The court charges a fee for filing the divorce paperwork. As of 2021, California's filing fees are $435 for the petition as well as the response. If you can't afford to pay, you can submit a fee waiver form asking the court to waive all court fees for your case.
Once you pay the filing fees and submit your paperwork, you must serve your spouse with copies of the divorce by having a third party deliver the papers. Depending on whether your spouse responds, your case will proceed as either a "default" case or an "uncontested" case.
If the respondent does not file a response to the petition within 30 days, you can file forms to request a dissolution by default. Before you do this, however, it's essential that you've properly served your spouse with the paperwork and wait the full 30 days.
Since you and your spouse have already agreed to the terms of your divorce, the judge will approve your agreement and issue a divorce judgment. However, the divorce won't be final until six months have passed since the petition was served on the respondent. (Cal. Fam. Code § 2339 (2021).)
If your spouse files a response to your petition, your case will proceed as an uncontested divorce. Either you or your spouse must turn in final forms to the court to ask for a judgment of divorce. The final forms include orders you want the court to make about your property and debt, spousal support, and child custody and support.
The judge will generally approve your agreement and sign your divorce judgment. But if there's some problem with the agreement or other paperwork, the judge will ask you to correct it. Just as with a default divorce, there's a six-month waiting period (from service of the petition) before your divorce is final.