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Dissolution (Divorce) / Legal Separation / Nullity (Annulment)
In California, there are several ways to end a marriage or domestic partnership: dissolution (more commonly know as divorce), legal separation, and nullity (also known as annulment). You will find information here that may help you decide which option is right for you and your partner; however you should also consider consulting with a family law attorney so that you are informed of your legal rights and the important legal issues in your case.

In a divorce or legal separation case, you can ask the judge for orders that may include child custody, visitation, child support, spousal/partner support, the division of assets and debts, and restraining orders.

After you are divorced, or the court grants an annulment, you will be single, and you can marry or become a domestic partner again. A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership.

A formal judgment signed by a judge and stating the date that your marriage or domestic partnership ends must be filed with the court before your case is final.


Before you start a case:

What must I know about dissolution in California?

A divorce in legal terms is called a Dissolution of Marriage. For parties in a Domestic Partnership, this is Dissolution of a Domestic Partnership. The Dissolution ends all legal bonds. There are residency requirements to get divorced in California. This means you have to have lived in California for the past 6 months. To file in Orange County, one party must have lived in Orange County for the three months immediately preceding the filing of the Petition.

Both persons do not have to agree to the divorce. One partner can’t force the other to stay in the relationship. Either spouse can decide to end the marriage. The spouse who does not want to get a divorce cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. Non participation may lead to a default judgment, not to a dismissal of the divorce request.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement to the divorce and all issues of the marriage or partnership, the court will make final decisions regarding how the couple will divide what they owe, divide property, determine whether one person will receive financial support from the other regarding the minor children and make other orders on related issues.

There is a no fault divorce law in California. There is no need to prove “fault” of one or the other spouse or partner in the deterioration of marriage or partnership from the court’s point of view. The grounds for divorce in California are that there are irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity.

If a Domestic Partnership is not registered with the State of California, you cannot file for a Dissolution of Domestic Partnership with the Court.

It takes at least six months for the divorce to become final. The six months is counted from the date that the partner who started the divorce had the other served with the Petition and the Summons OR when the responding partner filed their first paper, whichever occurs first. There is a process to follow to finish the dissolution/divorce after the first papers are filed. Several other documents still need to be submitted to the court. A divorce is not final until a Judgment of Dissolution is signed by the judge. One of the parties has to prepare the judgment form with the appropriate attachments and submit it for signature.

Either party may ask the judge to order child support, spousal or partner support (alimony), child custody and visitation, division of property, domestic violence restraining orders and other orders on related issues unless there is a default. If there is a default because the other party did not respond to the Petition, they are essentially waiving their right to have a say in the divorce settlement.

Couples married for less than 5 years, that do not have children, do not owe or own much and agree on how they will divide their belongings can use a shortened process to handle their divorce called a Summary Dissolution. This process is not available for dissolution of domestic partnerships.

What is legal separation?

A Legal Separation does not legally end the marriage or domestic partnership, but allows for persons to live apart and make their own decisions about money, property and parenting issues. Sometimes people choose this option for religious reasons or due to insurance or other benefits. Persons are not free to marry again, but they may ask the court for orders such as for division of debts, property, custody and support. There are no residency requirements to file for Legal Separation in California.

What is a nullity or annulment?

In a nullity or annulment, the court ends the marriage or domestic partnership by saying it was not legal from the beginning. The court declares the marriage or domestic partnership void because of force, fraud, bigamous or incestuous relationship, physical or mental incapacity or because one partner was too young to legally marry. The court will make final decisions regarding how the couple will divide what they owe, divide property, determine whether one person will receive financial support from the other and make other orders on related issues. A nullity establishes that a marital status or domestic partnership never existed.

What is a residency requirement?

There are residency requirements to get divorced in California. This means you have to have lived in California for the past 6 months. To file in Orange County, one party must have lived in Orange County for the three months immediately preceding the filing of the Petition.

What if my partner does not agree to a divorce?

Both persons do not have to agree to the divorce. One partner can’t force the other to stay in the relationship. Either partner can decide to end the marriage. The partner who does not want to get a divorce cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. Non participation may lead to a default judgment, not to a dismissal of the divorce request.

What is a no fault divorce?

There is a no fault divorce law in California. There is no need to prove “fault” of one or the other spouse or partner in the deterioration of marriage or partnership from the court’s point of view. The grounds for divorce in California are that there are irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity.

Can I file for dissolution of domestic partnership
if we did not register our partnership with the State of California?

If a Domestic Partnership has not been registered with the State of California or another state, you cannot file for a Dissolution of Domestic Partnership with the Court. Also, at least one of the parties has to have lived in California for the past 6 months. To file in Orange County, one party must have lived in Orange County for the three months immediately preceding the filing of the Petition.

How long before my divorce / dissolution is final?

It takes at least six months for the divorce to become final. The six months is counted from the date that the partner who started the divorce had the other served with the Petition for Dissolution and the Summons OR when the other spouse responded (filed their first paper), whichever is earlier. A divorce is not final until a Judgment of Dissolution is signed by the judge. There are several forms to be completed and additional steps to be taken before a Judge will consider a Judgment.



Starting or responding to a case:

How do I file for dissolution, legal separation or nullity?

The following workshops are available:

  • Step 1:      Complete the following forms:

  • Step 2:      In addition to the completed forms listed above, you will also need to print
    • two blank forms:

  • Step 3:      Bring the original and two copies of the entire set of completed forms
    • under step 1 and the blank forms under step 2 with the filing fee in cash, check, credit card or money order to the Family Law Clerk’s Office.
    • You may bring these in person or mail them in. If you decide to mail them, provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage to return the two sets of copies back to you.

  • Step 4:      The clerk’s office will assign you a case number and “File” stamp all the
    • forms. They will keep the original and give you the copies with “Filed” stamps on them. These are considered conformed copies. One set is for you to keep for your records and the other is for your spouse or partner to have. The set for your spouse or partner will include the two blank forms you printed under step 2.
    • The person that started the case is the Petitioner. They always remain the Petitioner in the case.

  • Step 5:      You have just opened or started a case.


  • Step 6:      The set of forms for your spouse or partner must be “served.” That is a
    • person over 18 not connected to the court case (not you) who gives your partner their set of the court forms. When a lawsuit is filed, the person being sued has a right to be told about it. This needs to be done in time for the person to go to court and tell the judge his or her side of the story before the judge makes a decision. This process is called “service of process” and is very important. If the party can’t be located you may need to serve by publication.
    • Your spouse or partner is the Respondent or the party who will be responding to your Petition for Dissolution, Legal Separation or Nullity. The Respondent always remains the Respondent in the case.

  • Step 7:      Once your spouse or partner has been given copies of the forms, a Proof
    • of Service (form FL-115) must be completed by the person that “served” the documents and be brought or mailed to the clerk’s office to be placed in the court file. This form lets the court know that the right documents were given to the Respondent in the manner required by law. Be sure to bring an extra copy and self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage if you mail this in.

  • Step 8:      Also required to proceed with your case is exchange of financial
    • information. You have to do this twice. First is the “preliminary” exchange and then before your case is completely resolved you exchange financial information a “final” time in case there are changes in circumstances from the time of the preliminary exchange. Even if there are no changes, a final will be required unless the final of the Declaration of Disclosure is specifically waived.
    • The preliminary exchange may be done at the same time you serve your spouse/partner with the documents you completed and printed under steps 1 and 2 above.
    • To complete the exchange of financial information you need to complete:

  • Step 9:      The financial information you exchange with your spouse/partner does
    • not need to be filed with the court, but you do need to tell the court you exchanged. This is done by filing forms:

  • Step 10:    Now that you have opened the case and exchanged financial
    • information, determine if this is a contested or uncontested case. When you and your spouse or partner can agree about the money and parenting issues in your divorce, legal separation or nullity it is considered uncontested. In many cases the filing of a response document may not be necessary by your spouse or partner. You and your partner will need to work on drafting an agreement and proposed judgment. There are many options and several legal services or attorneys that can help you with all of the requirements of a legal judgment.

  • Step 11:    If you and your spouse or partner cannot agree on one or more issues
    • of your divorce this is a contested case. The Respondent completes and files their Response with the court. They have 30 days after they receive service in which to do this without risk of being in default. To respond complete these forms:

  • Step 12:    If the Respondent does not complete their forms within 30 days they are
    • giving up their right to have any say in their divorce settlement. The Petitioner can proceed with the case without the other person’s participation by requesting a Default. A Request to Enter Default (form FL-165) is to be completed if it becomes necessary to proceed by Default.
    • Even when there is a Default the parties may still agree and seek a final judgment under Family Code § 2336. If the parties do not agree a Memorandum for Setting of Hearing (form L124) is required to schedule the case for hearing. Petitioner may submit a proposed judgment of their own to the judge at the hearing.

    • At the point that the Respondent files a Response or Appearance Stipulation and Waiver, a Request to Enter Default cannot be entered. If there is a Default entered, a Response cannot be filed without the Respondent first requesting a judge to set aside an entered default.

  • Step 13:    If the Response, under step 12, will be filed make two copies of the
    • completed forms. Bring the original and two copies of the forms with the filing fee in cash, check, credit card or money order to the Family Law Clerk’s Office.
    • You may bring these in person or mail them in. If you decide to mail them, provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope to return the two sets of copies back to you.
    • The clerk’s office will stamp the same case number and “File” stamp all the forms. They will keep the original and give you the copies with “Filed” stamps on them (conformed copies). One set is for you to keep for your records and the other is for your spouse or partner to have.

  • Step 14:    The set of forms for your spouse or partner must be “served.” That is
    • a person over 18 not connected to the court case (not you) who gives your partner their set of the court forms. When a lawsuit is filed, the person being sued has a right to be told about it. This needs to be done in time for the person to go to court and tell the judge his or her side of the story before the judge makes a decision. This process is called “service of process” and is very important.

  • Step 15:    Once your spouse/partner has been given copies of the forms, a Proof of
    • Service (form L2409) must be completed by the person that “served” the documents and be brought or mailed to the clerk’s office to be placed in the court file. This form lets the court know that the right documents were given to the Petitioner in the proper manner required. Be sure to bring an extra copy and provide a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage if you mail this in.

  • Step 16:    A final exchange of financial information is now required.
    • You have to do this twice. First is the “preliminary” exchange and then before your case is completely resolved you exchange financial information a “final” time in case there are changes in circumstances from the time of the preliminary exchange. Even if there are no changes, a final will be required unless the final of the Declaration of Disclosure is specifically waived.
    • To complete the exchange of financial information you need to complete:

  • Step 17:    The financial information you exchange with your spouse/partner does
    • not need to be filed with the court, but you do need to tell the court you exchanged. This is done by filing forms:

  • Step 18:    For cases that are contested, where there is a Response on file and no
    • agreement of the parties, a hearing on the issues needs to be scheduled. This is done by completing an At Issue Memorandum (form L31). You complete this and mail or bring it to the Clerk’s Office. If you mail it, provide a self addressed, stamped envelope for the clerk’s office to return a hearing date to you.

  • Step 19:    Your case is not final until you have a Judgment signed by the judge
    • and a Notice of Entry of Judgment (form FL-190). These forms and necessary attachments are prepared by one of the parties and submitted to the court to ensure that all legal requirements are included. The judgment should include orders dividing property equally, establishing support if appropriate and include custody and visitation as well as other related orders. The court will determine the date of termination or separation. Your case is not final without a Judgment.



Clerk's office:

What is the clerk's office?

The Family Law Clerk’s Office is where you come to “File” your court documents on family related matters, such as divorce, separation, nullity, paternity, family support and domestic violence. We perform clerically administrative functions such as requests for copy work, schedule dates on the courtroom calendars based on availability, accept payment for filing documents and fees and process other documents such as appeals, transfers, writs, abstracts and stipulated judgments.

When you enter the Clerk’s Office you will be greeted by our triage clerk. The triage clerk will be asking questions to determine the priority of the filings and to save you time if you are not in the correct filing location or if your forms are not yet complete. You will be issued a number to wait in line.

Where is the Family Law clerk's office located?

The Family Law Clerk’s Office is located on the 7th floor, room 706 at:

Superior Court of California, County of Orange
Lamoreaux Justice Center
341 the City Drive
Orange, CA 92863


Business hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (excluding court holidays).

The building is located between Garden Grove Boulevard/Memory Lane and Chapman Avenue. When visiting our facility, be prepared to pay for parking and allow sufficient time as you will be required to go through weapon screening before entering the building. Recording devices, including cameras are prohibited and you will not be allowed to bring them into the building.

What method of payment does the clerk's office accept?

The court accepts cash, check, credit card or money orders as methods of payment. The fee for filing a new case will vary depending on case type. Please refer to the Uniform Filing Fee Schedule posted on our website.

Where can I get court forms?

Court forms may be obtained, free of charge, through our website or from the onsite public computers at the Self-Help Center. You may also choose to use the I-CAN!™ fillable form program to complete specific forms

How can I view my file?

The list of documents that have been filed on your case, party and hearing information can be viewed on our court public website case information link.

To view the Register of Action or images of filed documents in a Family Law case, you may visit the Family Law Clerk’s Office and access the case from the public computers in the lobby.

NOTE:
You must have a written order from the judge in order to view sealed or confidential records.

Paternity files are confidential by law and only parties to the case with valid identification or an approved signed order of the court will be allowed to view a Paternity case.

How do I search for my case number?

If you do not have the case number available, you can search for your case by name on the internet or from the index computers in the Clerk’s Office lobby.

Family Law cases opened in 1968 or later may be searched at the Lamoreaux Justice Center. Requests for Family Law index searches for cases filed prior to 1968 may be submitted to the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

How do I request copies?

You may request copies by mail or in person. There is a per page copy fee and other applicable fees may apply, including fees for a search, certification, exemplification, and/or authentication, if requested. Include the following information in your request:



  • Case number
  • Case name
  • Indicate “entire file” or specify documents by title. Specify the date filed (if known or give approximate year of filing)
  • Include a check made payable to “Clerk of the Court” for the full amount (refer to the Uniform Filing Fee Schedule for the current copy, search, certification, exemplification and authentication fees.)
  • If you are unsure of the total amount to send, write “NOT TO EXCEED $50” in the memo section of your check and leave the amount blank. The clerk will fill-in the correct amount and will send a receipt along with copy of requested documents.
  • Include self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage for the return of the copies.
  • Mail to:
    • Superior Court of California, County of Orange
    • Family Law Division
    • 341 The City Drive
    • Orange, CA 92868
    • Attn: Records Department
  • If you are a party in a Paternity or Parentage action, please include a copy of a valid photo identification including any of the following:
    • Drivers’ License
    • Identification Card issued by Department of Motor Vehicles
    • United States Passport
    • United States Military Identification
    • Naturalization documents with photo identification
    • Tribal photo identification

I received my filed judgment. What does it mean?


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