Ending a Marriage
Accessing and Checking an Existing Case
Check your case online.
End Your Marriage
OPTIONS FOR HANDLING YOUR CASE:
Ask a lawyer to help you:
You can look for a lawyer in the phone book or call the Orange County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (949) 440-6747 or Toll Free at (877) 257-4762. You can also check the local Legal Resources Information Sheet (L-1172).
Divorce can be a complicated process. What forms you need depends on your specific case circumstances.
You can also get free Self-Help Family Law Packets at a Self-Help Center location.
All of the state forms are available from the Judicial Council website. Choose the "Family Law - Dissolution/Legal Separation/Annulment" option on that page from the dropdown box.
You may use a form generator program to help fill out your forms. These forms can be completed and submitted for filing from your computer.
You will have to pay fees to file your forms with the Clerk’s Office. View the Current Fees.
If you are getting public benefits, are a low-income person, or do not have enough income to pay for your household’s basic needs and your court fees, you may ask the court to waive all or part of your court fees. For more information, go to Fee Waiver.
In California, the same basic procedures apply to people who are legally dissolving a marriage or a registered domestic partnership.
To file for divorce, either one of the spouses or partners must have:
- Lived in the State of California for six (6) months, AND
- Lived in the county for three (3) months before starting their divorce in that county. (See California Family Code Section 2320)
If someone wants to start their divorce in one county in California but does not meet residence requirements yet, he or she can file for a legal separation first, and then amend their petition to ask for divorce after they meet the residence requirements.
If someone’s spouse or partner lives in another state or country with any children from the relationship who are 18 years old or younger, they should consider discussing their situation with an attorney before they file any papers with the court. Interstate and international law are not covered on this website.
There are no residency requirements to start a Legal Separation.
Grounds for Divorce or Legal Separation
There are "no fault" requirements to get a divorce in California.
The State of California assumes that people who get married or register a domestic partnership are reasonable, mature adults, and that people who want to get "unmarried" or end a domestic partnership are reasonable, mature adults. There is no need to prove "fault" of one or the other spouse or partner.
The only two grounds for divorce in California are:
- Irreconcilable differences, or
- Incurable insanity. (See California Family Code Section 2310 AND California Family Code Section 2335)
Normally, people just give "irreconcilable differences" as their reason for wanting a divorce. They don’t have to prove anything. There is no "guilty" or "non-guilty" person, from the court’s point of view.
The only thing the court is interested in is helping the separating spouses or partners reach a fair agreement about how their life will be restructured after the divorce so they can move ahead to rebuild their lives.
In California, either spouse can decide to end their marriage. It is not necessary for the other spouse to agree. (See California Family Code Section 2334(c))
The spouse who does not want to get a divorce cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. Non-participation will just lead to a "default" judgment, not to a dismissal of the divorce request.
Grounds for a Nullity
Although this is usually more difficult to prove, some people want the court to end their marriage or registered domestic partnership by saying that it was not legal from the beginning. This option is often referred to as an "annulment." The court calls this way of ending the relationship a "nullity of marriage" or "nullity of registered domestic partnership", and it may apply in extreme situations such as an incestuous or bigamous relationship. It is not based on the length of the marriage.
For more information, please contact one of the Self-Help Centers.
Ending a Short Term Marriage
Under California law, some people can use a relatively easy process called Summary Dissolution to end their marriage. This process is only available when the following criteria are met, as described in California Family Code Section 2400.
For more information, please contact one of the Self-Help Center locations:
Briefly, a Summary Dissolution is possible for couples:
- Who have been married less than 5 years,
- Who have no children together,
- Who do not own very much,
- Who do not owe very much, and
- Who both agree to a divorce and each sign the papers.
Ending a Domestic Partnership
Domestic partners who want to use summary dissolution to end their relationship in California should go through the California Secretary of State, not the courts.
Learn how to end a California registered domestic partnership through the California Secretary of State.
For more information, please contact one of the Self-Help Centers.
A Marriage is Ended When...
In California it takes at least six (6) months to get a divorce.
Usually, this six months is counted FROM the date that:
- The spouse or partner who started the divorce had the other spouse or partner served with the petition for divorce and the court summons, OR
- When the other spouse or partner responded to the petition (if he or she responded at all).
The divorce is final after:
- A judge signs the divorce Judgment (FL-180).
- A court clerk will mail the divorce judgment to each spouse or partner, with the date that the judgment was filed stamped in the upper right corner.
- You are not single until the specific date that appears on the body of you judgment that states "date marital or domestic partnership ends:"
NOTE: The marriage does not end automatically at the end of six months:
One of the spouses or partners has to prepare the judgment form, with appropriate attachments, and have it signed by a judge. Then a copy of the judgment has to be given to the other spouse or partner.
Save a copy of the Judgment so that you can show how and when your marital or domestic partnership status ended (you got a divorce).
NOTE: There is no six month waiting periods to get a Legal Separation finalized.
Select the following links for help concerning these court orders within your Divorce, Legal Separation or Nullity case:
For additional help, please visit a Self-Help Center.
Mediation as an Option
There are free mediation services in Family Court for custody and visitation issues. Concerning Custody and Visitation, you can work with a mediator from the Family Court Services.
You can also hire a private mediator. There is a fee to do private mediation. Look up "Attorneys-Mediation" in the yellow pages of your phone book.
You may also ask a Self-Help Center for a referral to one of the Court’s Dispute Resolution Providers.
Declaration of Disclosure
The law says you must give your spouse information about your income, expenses, things you own and money you owe (even if you do not own anything or owe any money). This is called "disclosure."
The first disclosure you make is called the "Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure." You have to do this before you can finish your divorce, legal separation, or annulment. Sometimes you also have to make a second, final disclosure.
Finishing Your Case
REMEMBER: You cannot get divorced or legally separated just by filing the initial paperwork. You must complete and file the necessary court forms to get your divorce judgment. This does not happen automatically.
NO RESPONSE FILED:
If your spouse has been properly served AND your spouse HAS NOT served and filed a timely response within thirty (30) days of being served, then you can proceed by default. If you are proceeding by default, you will need to fill out the following forms:
- Request to Enter Default (FL-165)
- Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) (if there are requests for child or spousal support)
- Memorandum for Setting for Hearing (L-0124)
If you have gotten your spouse properly served AND your spouse HAS served and filed a timely response, then you can proceed by filing the appropriate documents to set it for Trial or turn in your uncontested judgment. Please see the section below titled "Steps to Finish Your Contested Case" for more information on how to set your case for Trial.
Steps to Finish Your Contested Divorce
STEP 1: REQUEST FOR TRIAL
Fill out and file the At-Issue Memorandum for Trial Setting (L-0031).
Have someone (who is at least 18 and not involved in your case) mail a copy of the At-Issue Memorandum for Trial Setting (L-0031) to your spouse. The person who mails the form must then sign the Declaration of Service by Mail on the bottom of the At-Issue Memorandum for Trial Setting (L-0031) and give the form back to you.
STEP 2: FILE YOUR REQUEST AND GET A COURT DATE
Take your At-Issue Memorandum for Trial Setting (L-0031) to the Clerk’s Office at the Lamoreaux Justice Center. They will mail you and your spouse a notice with a court date. You and your spouse must go to court on that date for Trial.
Before coming to your Trial, be sure to follow all instructions that accompany your notice from the courthouse. It contains important information on the forms that you still need to complete for your trial date. If you need additional assistance with those judgment forms, visit one of the Self-Help Centers.
If both parties to the case are unrepresented, you may be scheduled to appear on the Self-Represented Party Calendar ("SRP"), where the Self-Help Center staff assists the court and the parties in this special calendar.
If one or more parties are represented, the case will be set for a Trial.
Mandatory Settlement Conference:
If the Judge sends you to a Mandatory Settlement Conference, you must prepare a Settlement Conference Statement. This statement gives a detailed and thoroughly documented explanation of your issue(s).
You must type this pleading in proper legal form. Check Local Rule 705 to make sure you do it correctly. There is no standard or Judicial Council form available for this. If your case is in Orange County, there is a local Orange County form developed for this purpose that you can use to complete your Settlement Conference Statement. The form is called Settlement Conference Brief (L-0966).
STEP 3: JUDGMENT
Whether you come to an agreement outside of court, at one of the court proceedings, or if your case is heard and decided by a Judge, you must prepare the following documents:
- A Judgment (FL-180)
- Attachments to the Judgment (on court forms or pleading paper that contain the orders for custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, and attorneys fees, if any). If you are using the Judicial Council Attachments, please refer to the following list of attachments that you may need to incorporate into your judgment:
- If there are children of the relationship, then a Notice of Rights and Responsibilities Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (FL-192) would need to be inserted with the Judgment.
- Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190)
- Two addressed, stamped envelopes with the Court’s return address. One will have your address; the other will have your spouse’s address.
- If there are children of the relationship, then a Child Support Case Registry (FL-191) would also need to be completed.
For help with these forms, go to the Self-Help Center.
After you prepare your documents, make three copies and bring originals and additional copies to your trial date.