California Divorce FAQs

Get answers to the most common questions about divorce in California.

By , Legal Editor

Getting divorced can be a daunting process. Along with the emotional and practical changes that come with ending a marriage, you'll need to navigate the legal system. And money worries are almost always in the picture. But you can find answers to your questions about divorce laws in California, as well as the help you need.

Who can file for divorce in California?

If you want to get a divorce in California (where divorce is legally known as "dissolution of marriage"), you must meet the state's residency requirements. Just before you start the divorce process, you or your spouse must have lived for six months in the state and for three months in the county where you file your divorce papers. (Learn more about how to file for divorce in California.)

Note that gay and lesbian couples have the same legal rights in divorce as opposite-sex couples. But same-sex divorce sometimes involves extra complications, particularly for couples who lived together before same-sex marriage was legal.

Also, couples who want to end domestic partnerships in California will generally need to go through the same process as a dissolution of marriage, unless they meet the strict requirements for filing a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership.

What are the legal grounds for divorce in California?

All states require a legally acceptable reason (ground) for divorce. California is a "no-fault divorce" state, meaning that the state's divorce grounds don't include any accusations of misconduct. The vast majority of divorcing couples in California will simply declare that they have "irreconcilable differences."

Does California require separation before divorce?

No. California does not require that couples live separate and apart before they may get a dissolution of marriage. However, if you are thinking of separating, you'll want to consider whether you should move out of the family home during your divorce.

Although it's not required, couples may choose to get a legal separation in California, either instead of a dissolution or while they're deciding whether to get divorced.

How much does divorce cost in California?

When you file your initial paperwork to start the divorce process, you'll need to pay a filing fee unless you apply and qualify for a waiver. As of August 2022, the filing fee for a dissolution petition in California is $435, but that amount is subject to change.

Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:

Based on a 2019 reader survey and study of attorneys' fees, the average cost of attorneys' fees for divorce in California ranged from $12,500 to $15,300. But actual costs ranged widely.

How long will it take to get divorce in California?

After you've formally delivered ("served") your divorce papers to your spouse, California has a minimum six-month waiting period before your divorce will be final. (Cal. Fam. Code § 2339 (2022).)

As with cost, the actual amount of time your divorce will take depends on the circumstances in your case. If your divorce is contested, you'll have to go through a number of legal steps that can add several months to the process. And if you and your spouse aren't able to reach a settlement agreement at some point in the process (more on that below), going to trial will require even more time—usually more than a year. Court backlogs can also make the entire process take longer.

How is community property divided in California?

California is a community property state, which means that a couple's property will almost always be divided equally between them when they get divorced. Learn more about how community property is divided during divorce in California—including what happens to pensions and other retirement accounts, as well as the difference between separate and marital (or community) property.

How is child custody decided in California?

All decisions about the legal and physical custody of children in any California divorce must be based on what would be in the children's best interests. Judges must consider a number of factors when they make custody decisions (or decide whether to approve the parents' agreement on the issue), including the custody preferences of children who are mature enough to express an intelligent opinion on the issue.

What are the child support guidelines in California?

Like all states in the U.S., California has guidelines that include detailed rules for deciding who must pay child support and how much those payments should be. Learn all about how child support is calculated in California, including when support amounts may depart from the guideline.

How does spousal support work in California?

Before judges will order one spouse to pay alimony (known as spousal support in California) after a divorce, they must consider a long list of specific circumstances in the case. Judges have more leeway when deciding on temporary spousal support during the divorce proceedings, based mostly on whether one spouse needs the support and the other one can pay it.

Can we agree to an out-of-court settlement in our California divorce?

Yes, you may agree with your spouse about how to handle the issues in your dissolution of marriage at any point during the process, from before you've filed the divorce papers right up to just before a trial.

In California, you typically won't need to go to court to get your final divorce after you and your spouse have signed a complete divorce settlement agreement. A judge will review your agreement, approve it (unless there's some problem), and make it part of the dissolution judgment.

What happens if we can't agree on a divorce settlement?

If you aren't able to agree with your spouse about any of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, you'll need to go to trial to have a judge resolve the disputes for you. Anytime you need a trial, your divorce will take longer and cost more. So if at all possible, it's always in your best interests to do everything you can to come to a settlement agreement that's fair for both you and your ex.

When can I get a legal annulment in California?

If you want to get an annulment, you'll need to convince a judge that you meet one of the narrow grounds for void or voidable marriages. Learn more about annulment in California, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.

Where can I get more information and help with my California divorce?

You can find answers to other divorce-related questions in our section on dissolution of marriage in California. Here are some other resources:

  • Court services. California courts offer free legal help for people getting a divorce, including Family Law Facilitators (who may help you find and fill out the divorce forms). The extent and availability of these services can vary from county to county.
  • Mediation. If you want the cost-and-time advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all of the issues, divorce mediation can help you find solutions and common ground. At the end of the process, the mediator will typically prepare a written document that reflects any of the agreements you've reached. If you still have disagreement about child custody after you've filed for divorce, you'll be required to mediate those disputes—but custody mediation through Family Court Services is free.
  • Online divorce. If you've reached a complete settlement but need more help with the uncontested divorce forms than you can get through the court, you might try an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms, based on your answers to a questionnaire.
  • Legal help. Of course, there are some divorces that require a lawyer's help. If that's true in your case, here are some questions to ask before hiring a divorce attorney. And if you don't need a lawyer to handle all the legal matters in your case but do need some limited advice or help (such as reviewing or drafting a settlement agreement), you might look into the idea of hiring an attorney on a consulting, as-needed basis.

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