Before the Case

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, each of you needs to begin thinking about and preparing for a separate life. This may or may not be complicated in your situation. You might think about:

  • How much money you will need to support yourself and any children;
  • Where you will live, and what kind of place you will need. (For example, how many rooms and whether you need tobe close to a school, work, or public transportation); and
  • Where you will work, and what kind of work schedule you will have. (This is especially important if you will have child care issues.)

For help in learning how to deal with the new financial challenges and emotional impact of divorce on children, visit Families Change.

There is more than one way to end a relationship, including:

Dissolution. This is another word for divorce. In a dissolution, the court makes final decisions. These decisions are about how the couple will divide what they own, whether one person will receive financial support, and other related issues. After a divorce is final, both people are legally able to marry or register a partnership with someone else.

Legal separation. Sometimes people are not ready to totally end their marriage or domestic partnership. Instead, they want to live apart and make their own decisions about money, property, and parenting issues. They still stay legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. This option is called "legal separation."

Annulment. Some people want the court to end their marriage or domestic partnership by saying it was never legal. This can be difficult to prove. The court calls this way of ending the relationship a "nullity of marriage" or "nullity of registered domestic partnership." It may apply in extreme situations such as an incestuous or bigamous relationship.

NOTE: Couples who have been married or in a registered domestic partnership for less than five years can use a shortened process to handle their divorce. This is called Summary Dissolution and is only available when:

  • they have no children together,
  • neither wants spousal support,
  • neither has real property,
  • they do not own or owe very much,
  • they have no disagreements about how they will divide their belongings and debts, and
  • certain other situations.

People who end their marriage or registered domestic partnership often have other issues to deal with. For example, they may have children, own property, have issues related to domestic violence, or need spousal or partner support. To learn more about:

  • Child Custody and Visitation
  • Child Support
  • Restraining orders
  • Spousal or Partner Support (alimony)

Go back to the main page and select the topic that you want to learn about.

Some couples can use an easier process to get divorced. This process is called "summary dissolution."

In general, to qualify the couple must:

  • have been married for less than 5 years.
  • have no children together.
  • have less than $43,000 total property (excluding cars).
  • have less than $43,000 in separate property (excluding cars).
  • not owe more than $6,000 in debt since getting married. Car loans don't count.
  • agree about how to divide all belongings, assets, and debts.
  • agree to give up any rights to spousal support.
  • agree about all other issues related to the divorce.

To help you figure out if you qualify, use these worksheets:

For more information about whether you qualify and the process, readSummary Dissolution.

NOTE: Domestic partners who want to use summary dissolution to end their relationship in California may go through the California Secretary of State, not the courts.

Step 1:You must read Summary Dissolution InformationFL-810.

Step 2: Determine where to File

  • This is usually the County where you and your spouse live.
  • For more help, use this program to help you figure out which is the right court.

Step 3: Exchange Financial Information

  • You will need to complete financial worksheets and exchange financial information with your partner.
  • You must complete and exchange:
  • You must also give each other copies of your tax returns for the past 2 years

Step 4: If you have property or debts, complete a Property Settlement Agreement

  • You must complete a written agreement about how you will split up your property. You can use a form or write your own. For more information about Property Settlements, go to the "Property Settlement Agreement" tab below.

Step 5: Complete a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-800).
  • Both you and your spouse have to sign the Joint Petition.
  • Check with your local Family Law Facilitator to see if there are any "local forms" you may need to complete.

Step 6: Fill out the Judgment of Dissolution & Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-825)

  • Attach your Property Settlement Agreement to this form, if you have one.
Step 7: Make at least two copies of your completed Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment of Dissolution & Notice of Entry of Judgment along with any Property Settlement Agreement.

A property Settlement Agreement is a written description of the agreement you and your spouse have about who will get the assets and debts from during your marriage. The financial worksheets you completed before should be an easy reference to help you make a fair agreement.

  • If there are no assets or debts to divide, you can go straight to "Filing the Petition" .

How to Prepare Your Own Property Settlement Agreement:

A Property Settlement Agreement should contain at least five parts:

  1. Preliminary Statement
    This part lists the names of the husband and wife, states that the marriage is being ended, and states that both husband and wife agree on the details of the agreement.
  2. Division of Community Property
    This part has two sections:
    • What the wife receives.
    • What the husband receives.
  3. Division of Community Debt
    This part has two sections:
    • The amount wife must pay, and to whom she must pay it.
    • The amount husband must pay, and to whom he must pay it.
  4. Waiver of Spousal Support
    This part states that each spouse gives up all rights of financial support from the other.
  5. Date and Signatures
    Both husband and wife are to sign the agreement and write the date.

See an example of a Property Settlement Agreement on page 14 of the Summary Dissolution Information. If you wish, you may use it as a model for your own agreement.

Remember, you can divide the items any way you want. However, if you cannot agree about the division of your property and debts, you should file for a regular divorce.

Step 1: File your Forms

  • Take the original and two copies of your completed Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-800) and Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (Family Law—Summary Dissolution) (Form FL-825) to the Family Law Clerk Court for filing.
  • Bring 2 envelopes with postage. One should be addressed to you, and one should be addressed to your spouse. (The court will use these to mail the Notice of Entry of Judgement to you when the divorce is final.)
  • Find a courthouse in your county.

Step 2: Pay a filing fee.

  • Both you and your spouse must pay a filing fee. If you can't afford the fee, you may see if you qualify for a "fee waiver." Go to Fee Waiver to learn more about fee waivers and how to request one.
Step 3: Give filed forms to your spouse
  • After you paid you fee. The clerk will give you back copies of your filed forms. One is for you and the other is for your spouse.

Your divorce will be final six months and one day from the date the Petition was filed. The court will mail a Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-825) to you to let you know that the divorce is final.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You ARE NOT DIVORCED until you have received the Notice of Entry of Judgment from the Court.

There is a waiting period before your divorce is final. You must wait six months and one day from the date you filed your Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution. After the waiting period, the court will mail to you back a signed Notice of Entry of Judgment.

On the day these forms are mailed to you:

  • your marriage is ended;
  • the agreements you made in the Property Settlement Agreement are binding. You own the property assigned to you. You are responsible for the bills assigned to you.
  • except for those agreements, you have no further obligations to each other.
  • you are legally free to re-marry or enter into a registered domestic partnership.

There may be more details for you to consider.

NOTE: Your county court may finalize a Summary Dissolution differently. Check with your local court to learn that court's procedures. Find your court.

Many couples are able to solve some of their issues on their own. Resolving issues outside of court can save time and money, and cause less stress.

If you need help trying to reach agreement outside of court, you can try:


In mediation, a neutral person helps people reach an agreement they can both accept. This person is called a mediator. The mediator helps people talk through the issues in a way that makes it easier to settle the dispute themselves. Agreements can only be reached if everyone agrees.

To find a mediator in your area, you can:

  • Contact a community organization,
  • Contact your local Bar Association,
  • Contact the local court to see if they have a mediation panel.

Collaborative Divorce

In a collaborative divorce process, you and your spouse/partner come to an agreement with the help of collaborative lawyers.

You each hire your own lawyer and meet separately with them. The lawyers and both clients also meet together regularly. Sometimes, you and your spouse/partner can bring in other people to help you, like child custody specialists or accountants. This can help you settle your case without having to go in front of a judge in a court case.

For a collaborative divorce, both spouses/partners and their lawyers usually sign a contract agreeing they will not go to court. If the parties cannot reach a settlement and end up having to go to court, the lawyers agree to stop working on the case. If that happens, you have to get a new lawyer or represent yourself.

There are many collaborative law resources on the Internet. You can also call your local bar association and find out if there are any “collaborative law” groups in your county.

Handling a court case can be difficult and confusing. Many people get help from an expert.

For free and low-cost legal help in California:

Go to the California Courts website for information about:

  • Court-based self-help services
  • Legal aid agencies
  • Government agencies
  • Lawyer-referral services
  • Dispute resolution programs

Some other resources or options to consider:

People often need more than just legal help during a divorce. The spouses and their children may be afraid. They may have a hard time dealing with their emotions. They may also be worried about where they will live, how they will find work, or pay for child care. For help with these concerns: