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What is the Process for Getting a California Divorce?

There are different options for divorce in California, depending on your circumstances. The process is the same in San Diego County and all other California counties.

The California divorce or dissolution process proceeds by one person filing the initial divorce Petition.  It does not matter which spouse (or domestic partner) files the initial Petition in terms of any legal advantage.  Once it is filed, it is served to the other spouse along with the other required court documents.  That person then has 30 days to respond to it.  In California, you may have a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce.

You or your spouse may ask the court to enter temporary orders regarding things like child support and custody. You and your spouse will have the opportunity to conduct "discovery," which means to exchange information and documents that pertain to your divorce. Both spouses must complete financial disclosure forms prior to a judgment being entered by the court.  

You, your spouse and your attorneys then discuss settlement. If you reach an agreement, then one of the attorneys will draft a detailed Marital Settlement Agreement. If you can't agree on all the terms of your divorce, there will be a mandatory settlement conference wherein all parties attempt to resolve the issues with the assistance of a pro tem judge.  If that attempt fails, then the court will set a trial on the contested issues. Based on the settlement agreement or trial outcome, one of the attorneys will prepare a Judgment of Dissolution of marriage—your final divorce judgment. The judge signs the final Judgment, it is filed with the court, and notice is sent to all parties, which concludes the divorce process. 

San Diego Bar AssociationSection of Family LawCalifornia State Bar Family Law American Bar Association Avvo Clients' Choice 2014