The Legal Steps of Filing for Divorce in California

By Law Office of Karen S. Brown

Filing for divorce can be emotionally draining, stressful, and worrisome. While it may be a necessary move for both spouses, it can be difficult to know where to start or how to initiate this process. One could immediately speak with an experienced Los Angeles divorce lawyer about how to proceed, but sometimes just knowing the steps involved beforehand can offer strength and peace of mind.

We’d like to go step-by-step through the process of filing for divorce in the state of California. As you’ll read, the procedure is generally straightforward.

Obtain the Proper Legal Forms

The first step to filing for divorce is obtaining the proper forms. The standard forms are available free online at Briefly, the standard divorce forms you’ll need may include:

  • FL-100 – Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership

  • FL-110 – Summons (Family Law)

  • FL-115 – Proof of Service of Summons (Family Law — Uniform Parentage — Custody and Support)

If you have children who are younger than 18, you will also need to following forms:

  • FL-105/GC-120 – Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

  • Form FL-311 – Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment

There is also FL-160 Property Declaration (Family Law), which is available if you require more room to list you and your spouse’s property and debts.

Fill out Your Divorce Forms

Once you have all the necessary forms ready, be sure to fill them out thoroughly and to the best of your ability. The California Courts website we noted above includes instructions on how to fill out the forms.

File Your Divorce Papers at Court

When the forms are completed, your next step will be to go to the local courthouse to file the documents. You’ll present your documents to the clerk and pay a filing fee. The clerk will then date-stamp the forms and have them entered into the court. You will receive copies of these documents.

Serve Your Spouse the Filed Legal Documents

The next step is to serve your spouse a copy of the divorce documents. This notifies your spouse of the process that is underway. He or she will have 30 days to respond.

There are different options for serving divorce papers. Sometimes divorce papers are served through a county sheriff. Other times the services of a professional process server are sought. There are also cases in which a friend or relative over the age of 18 hand delivers the documents to the respondent, or when the documents are delivered by mail. If you have questions about serving your spouse, a divorce attorney or a court clerk can offer guidance.

Working out The Terms of The Divorce

In a number of cases, this is the most difficult part of the process. You and your spouse will discuss the terms of the divorce, which includes issues such as the division of property, child custody, child visitation, payment of child support, and so forth.

There are additional forms to fill out following your preliminary filing regarding your financial status. Their forms are as follows:

  • FL-140 – Declaration of Disclosure

  • FL-150 – Income and Expense Declaration

  • FL-142 – Schedule of Assets and Debts

  • FL-160 – Property Declaration

  • FL-141 – Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure

All of these forms are also available free online at

If the terms of the divorce cannot be agreed to, an Order to Show Cause may be filed. This allows for a hearing in which a judge can review issues that are under dispute.

File a Marital Settlement Agreement

The final step is to file a Marital Settlement Agreement. The court will go over the Marital Settlement Agreement at a public hearing, at which point a Final Judgment is issued. The presence of either spouse in court during the hearing may not be necessary if the terms of the divorce are agreed upon.

Learn More About Divorce Proceedings

For more information about filing for divorce and your legal options to consider, we encourage you to contact an experienced family law attorney today. By speaking with our team, you will receive all the information and guidance you need every step of the way.