Divorce and Legal Separation
You can end a marriage or registered domestic partnership, or legally separate from your spouse/partner, in 3 different ways:
- Dissolution (Divorce)
- Legal Separation
To learn about the differences, go to: Overview of Divorce in California.
Generally, if you are filing for divorce, you or your spouse or registered domestic partner must have lived in California for 6 months, and in the county where you are filing for at least 3 months. There may be some exceptions in same sex marriages or registered domestic partners, so ask for help if you think those may apply to your case.
- For a legal separation, you do not have these residency requirements. But if you file for legal separation, and later want to end your marriage, you will have to re-file your case as a divorce.
If you are low income or cannot afford the court filing fees, you can ask the court to waive your fees by asking for a fee waiver. Find out more about fee waivers.
Check out our Divorce Flowchart to see all the steps you have to follow, links to forms, and info.
Is your divorce very simple? No children, little or no property?
If you and your spouse agree to the divorce, have no children together, have been married less than 5 years, and have little or no property or debt, you may qualify for a simpler way to get divorced. It’s called a Summary Dissolution. Click to see if you qualify for a summary dissolution.
Check out our Summary Dissolution Flowchart to see the steps you have to follow, links to forms, and info.
Fill Out Forms Online
If you are comfortable on a computer, you can use a form completion program that can fill out most of the divorce or legal separation forms you will need.
Click on the link below to get help starting a divorce or legal separation case:
Make sure you create an account with a user name and password that you write down in a safe place so you can return to your paperwork if you need to.
This program will:
Ask you questions and put your answers into the forms you need
Combine the forms into a single packet (a .pdf file) that you can download, email, & print
Include BLANK forms for your spouse: these are for you to have served on your spouse along with your completed, stamped forms
Allow you to file your forms online (e-file)
For help from self-help center staff online, click to register for a workshop to fill out all the forms to start a divorce or legal separation case.
What If Your Spouse Filed for Divorce?
Visit the California Courts Self-Help Portal to learn about responding to a case.
Check out our Responding to a Divorce Flowchart to see all the steps you have to follow, links to forms, and info.
To fill out the forms online (and e-file your forms if you choose), click below:
When Is a Divorce Final?
The soonest your divorce can be final is 6 months and one day from the earliest of these dates:
- The date your spouse or partner was served with the Summons (FL-110) and Petition (FL-100),
- The date your spouse or partner filed a Response (FL-120), or
- The date you or your spouse/partner filed the Appearance, Stipulation, and Waivers (FL-130).
But, you MUST file papers to finish your divorce. You will not be divorced until the court enters a Judgment. You will not automatically be divorced after 6 months.
If you filed for legal separation, there is no waiting period. You will be legally separated on the date the court enters a Judgment in the case.
Learn about finalizing your divorce or legal separation.
What if I need court orders while I wait for the divorce to be final?
Since it can take some time for the divorce process to happen and your divorce to be final, it is common to need court orders in the meantime.
You may need temporary orders about:
- child custody and visitation
- child support
- spousal or partner support
- property, and who can use certain property or who should pay the bills
- other issues related to your marriage and separation.
For temporary orders, you need to set up a court date for the judge to decide. To do that, you have to file a Request for Order.
Check out our Request for Order Flowchart to see all the steps you have to follow, links to forms, and info.
Child Custody / Child Support
For child custody and parenting time info, go to our Child Custody and Parenting Time page.
For child support info, go to our Child Support page.
Spousal / Partner Support
When two people who are married or in a registered domestic partnership separate or divorce, the court can order 1 spouse or partner to pay the other one a certain amount of support (called spousal or partner support) every month. Spousal or partner support used to be called “alimony.”
To learn about how a judge makes decisions about spousal and partner support, how to ask for spousal support, how to end it, and how to write up an agreement, click on Spousal / Partner Support.
Spousal or partner support can be a complicated legal issue so talk to a lawyer or contact our Self-Help Center to understand your rights and obligations.
Property and Debts
In a divorce or legal separation, couples (or the court) must also make decisions about how to split their property and their debt. Check out our video on understanding property and debts in a divorce.
This can be complicated, especially if there is a lot of property (like, houses or land, bank accounts, retirement accounts, or pension plans) or a lot of debts (like, credit cards, mortgages, medical bills or car payments).
In California, anything that either spouse or domestic partner purchased during the marriage (from the date they got married until the date they separated for good) is considered community property. Same is true for debts. Here are two examples:
You bought a car after you got married, and it's only in your name and the car loan is only in your name. You are the only one who drives it. The car is considered community property. This means that the car (and the loan on the car) belongs to both of you equally, half and half.
You put money into your 401(k) at work during the marriage. The money in that 401(k) is half yours and half your spouse's. If you worked at that job before you got married, and also during the marriage, the money in the 401(k) from before you got married is your separate property (yours alone). The money in the 401(k) from the time you were married belongs to both of you equally.
The only exception to the community property rules are anything you got as an inheritance (for example, if you inherited some money from a parent who passed away), or anything you got as a gift to just you. Inheritance and gifts are considered your separate property.
These laws are why it is so important that you include ALL of your property and debt in your divorce papers and tell the judge whether they are community property or separate property.
Watch the online course Finances After Separation to understand how financial issues must be decided as part of your divorce or separation.
Click to read more about Property and Debt in a Divorce or Legal Separation, including how to collect on a family law judgment if your ex-spouse or partner will not pay you what the court ordered after dividing your property.