Divorce in Southern California

Divorce in California follows a process that differs from some other states — and therefore, may not be what you expect, or may not be what you’ve been led to believe by friends, associates, books or information on the web. Here is some general information points that will help you understand how the Divorce process works in Southern California.

Grounds for Divorce in Southern California

Like most other states, Divorce in California is “no fault,” which means two key things:

  • The court don’t consider who is at fault for the Divorce when it decides issues such as dividing community property and support;
  • Either spouse can file for Divorce without having to prove or allege that the other spouse is “at fault” for causing the Divorce.

However, to qualify for a Divorce governed by California laws, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing for Divorce. Additionally, you can only file in the country where you’ve lived for the last three months. If you and your spouse have lived in different counties for the last three months, the Divorce can be filed in either county.

How do I start the Divorce Process in California?

The Divorce process starts with either spouse filing with the court a “Petition and Summons,” which is then served to the other spouse. Keep in mind, that if there are children, the Petitioner must also serve and file a UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act) declaration.

The spouse filing the Petition and Summons is considered the “Petitioner,” while the spouse receiving it is called the “Respondent.” The Respondent has 30 days to send in their response. Failure to respond during this period allows the Petitioner to seek a default judgement.

There is a fee for both filing a Petition and Summons, and sending in a response. In some cases, this fee may be waived for qualified individuals.

What Happens after the Process Starts?

Ideally, both spouses will agree on key issues such as temporary custody, temporary visitation, temporary child support and temporary spousal support. This agreement is captured by a “Stipulation and Order,” which is filed with the court. However, if the parties cannot agree on these key issues (again, on a temporary basis only), they can request that the court make a decision. If the unresolved issues relate to custody and visitation disputes, the court will send the spouses to “Conciliation Court,” where a mediator will attempt to create a mutually tolerable temporary solution. However, if this doesn’t work, the court will rule based on its determination of what is in the child(ren)’s best interest.

Again, this is all temporary. Ultimately, the courts will rule on permanent issues as a result of a trial or the outcome of an alternative dispute resolution process (e.g. collaborative Divorce, negotiation, mediation, etc.)

Is it Possible to Avoid Court?

Yes. If both spouses agree on all issues, they can create a “Marital Settlement Agreement” (also called a “Stipulated Judgment”). A key requirement of this process is that both spouses must disclose all assets, liabilities, and other facts that are relevant to the settlement. However, this is much easier said than done. Even Divorces that seem relatively simple on the surface can have complex financial issues, such as who is going to assume any marital debt (and to what extent), how retirement savings will be allocated, how businesses will be valued, and more.

To ensure that full disclosure is made and that your current and long-term financial interests are represented by any settlement agreement or court judgement, contact Cathleen Collinsworth to review your unique situation. Cathleen’s services include:

  • Determing Income for Support Purposes
  • Marital Balance Sheet
  • Moore-Marsden Calculations
  • Tracing of Separate & Community Property
  • Community Interest in Business
  • Tax Ramifications Relating to Divorce
  • Calculations of Credits & Reimbursements

Cathleen is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) and a Master Analyst in Financial Forensics (MAFF®) specializing in Litigation who practices forensic accounting.