The decision to divorce may take months, even years, to reach. Once you have decided with certainty that you want to end your marriage, you need to take the decision out into the world by filing for divorce. Your first step is to make sure that a court even has the authority (jurisdiction) to hear your divorce case. In order for the court to have jurisdiction over the dissolution of your marriage, either you or your spouse (or both) must have lived in California for six months, and in the county for three months, immediately preceding your filing for divorce.
If you want to file a divorce in San Diego County, but don't yet meet the residency requirements, it's possible to file for a legal separation and then revise your petition to ask for a divorce when residency requirements are met. This might happen in a scenario where a couple physically separates, and one person moves to San Diego County and wants the divorce to be decided there.
Before you file for divorce in San Diego, you also need to decide what kind of divorce you need. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for summary dissolution. Summary dissolution is a streamlined type of divorce process, but it is only available under certain circumstances. You and your spouse must have been married for less than five years from marriage to date of separation, have no children together, have limited assets and limited debt, and agree that neither of you will ever ask for property support from the other.
If you don't qualify for summary dissolution, your divorce will fall into one of two categories: contested or uncontested. In a contested divorce, one or more issues such as child custody or property division is disputed. In uncontested divorce, you and your spouse reach an agreement on all major issues out of court. It is possible, especially if there are children and issues of custody and support involved, for an uncontested divorce to become contested.
Once you're clear on whether you qualify for summary dissolution, or whether your divorce is likely to proceed as contested or uncontested, you need to file the papers that will officially begin the divorce.
You will need to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Superior Court in San Diego County. As of this writing, the filing fee is $435. There is no legal or tactical benefit to filing for divorce first, except insofar as you prefer the case to be filed in a certain county.
After you file, your spouse will be served with these documents, and then will have thirty days to respond to them. Failing to respond won't stop the divorce; the case will simply proceed without your spouse's input and will resolve in six months plus one day after your spouse was served with papers. If your spouse responds in a timely fashion, you'll exchange information about assets, debt, and financial matters. You and your attorneys may negotiate a settlement; if you're able to do so, you'll avoid a trial. If you can't reach agreement on all issues, there will be a court hearing in which evidence is presented and the judge makes a ruling on all disputed issues.
In some very straightforward cases, you can file for divorce on your own and have a successful outcome. There are a number of reasons to use a lawyer for your divorce. A good lawyer will be focused on your needs, and on helping the divorce proceed as quickly and peacefully as possible while still protecting your interests. A lawyer will help you understand the legal implications of what you're agreeing to, and what you're giving up. She will also be much more familiar with the divorce process and court procedures, which can save you time, money, and aggravation. We invite you to contact Shaffer & Associates for a free initial consultation to learn how having the right attorney can make filing for divorce in San Diego easier for you.
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