No. You do not have to have a lawyer when you go to court. In California, several hundred thousand people each year go to court without a lawyer. This is called being in "pro per" -- the legal term for a person representing him or herself without a lawyer. However, some cases are complicated. This is when a lawyer can be most helpful.
You may find that you need a lawyer if:
- anyone involved has an estate with substantial assets;
- anyone involved lives outside of California;
- there are some other legal proceedings going on at the same time;
- anyone involved has special needs (physically/emotionally disabled);
- anyone involved is a member of the armed services, or
- anyone involved is Native American (in which case, federal laws may apply).
Lawyers are trained to research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the law to the specific circumstances you face. In addition to skills in legal research, a lawyer will usually have:
- familiarity with courtroom rules and procedures;
- an understanding of when a witness is needed, and how he or she should be prepared for a trial;
- an understanding of when an expert, consultant, or investigator is needed – where to find such a person, and how much is reasonable to pay; and
- experience with different strategies for effective presentation of a case in court.
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer there are several options that may help.
- Every superior court in California has legal help available in family law and in small claims cases. Several superior courts can also help you with other legal issues. Find out what services are available at your court.
- There are legal aid offices in many cities throughout California. These are non-profit organizations that provide free legal services to people below a certain income level. Find free and low-cost legal help in your area and find out what areas of law they cover.
- If you don’t have much money but the other party in your case does, the court might order the other party to pay for some or all of your lawyer’s fees. (You would have to ask the court for this. It is not automatic.)
- Many bar associations have Modest Means Panels made up of lawyers who will take certain kinds of cases for a reduced fee. (You would have to find your local bar association and ask if it could help you with this.)
- You may be able to find a lawyer who will coach you on representing yourself (called "coaching"), or who will only handle (and charge you for) the more complicated parts of your case. This is called "limited scope representation" or "unbundled legal services.” (Your local bar association may have a list of lawyers who do limited scope representation.)
Generally, lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law. They may specialize in trial law (civil or criminal), bankruptcy law, elder law, family law, etc. When working with a lawyer, it is important to know his or her specialty.
NOTE: A lawyer cannot represent you in Small Claims court but they may help you prepare for your case.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, make sure you understand:
- what you will be paying for,
- how much it will cost, and
- when you will be expected to pay your bill.
You may want to talk to several attorneys before you hire one.
- Go to the State Bar of California’s Lawyer Referral Service.
You can also find attorneys listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory, or through the internet.
- Get more help finding free and low-cost legal aid.
For married people to get a divorce in California, one of the two situations must apply:
1. One spouse must have lived in:
- California for six months AND
- the county they plan to file in for 3-months.
NOTE:If you want a divorce, but don't meet residence requirements yet, you can file for a legal separation, and then amend the petition to ask for divorce once you meet the requirements.
2. OR, in the case of a marriage between two people of the same-sex, the spouses must:
- have been married in California, but now live in a state or country that will not grant a divorce. The divorce must be filed in the county where the marriage took place.
There are also rules for who can end a Domestic Partnership in California
To end a domestic partnership:
- If your domestic partnership was registered in California, you can end your domestic partnership even if you do not live in California.
- If you and your domestic partner do not live in California, the California court may not be able to make orders about property and debt, partner support, or orders about your children. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer with experience in domestic partnership laws. Find a lawyer.
- If your domestic partnership (or civil union) was registered in a different state, you or your domestic partner must:
- have lived in California for the last 6 months, and
- have live in the county for the last 3 months.
For domestic partners to get a legal separation:
- If your domestic partnership was registered in California, you can file for legal separation in California, even if neither of you lives in California.
- If your domestic partnership was NOT registered in California, you can file for legal separation in California if at least one of you is living in California.
IMPORTANT If someone's spouse or partner lives in another state or country with any children from the relationship under 18, they should consider discussing their situation with an attorney before filing anything. Interstate and international law are not covered on this site.
Most couples end their marriage or domestic partnership by getting it legally dissolved. This is called getting a divorce.
- Once a divorce is final, each person is single. Each is again legally able to marry or register a domestic partnership.
- Each person can ask the judge to order child support, spousal or partner support, child custody and visitation, division of property, domestic violence restraining orders, and other orders.
- The couple must meet California's residency requirements to get a divorce.
Sometimes, people don't want to get divorced, but they want to live apart and make their own decisions about money, property and parenting issues.
- Legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. The people are not legally free to marry or register a domestic partnership with someone else.
- Like a divorce, each person may ask the judge to order child support, spousal or partner support, child custody and visitation orders, division of property, domestic violence restraining orders and other orders.
- The couple does not have to meet the same residence requirements to get a legal separation as they do for a divorce.
Rarely, a court will rule that a marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. A marriage or domestic partnership that involves incest, for example, is never valid. Other marriages or domestic partnerships can be declared "void" because of force, fraud, mental incapacity, or because one of the spouses or partners was too young to legally marry or register a domestic partnership.
- Like divorce, annulment ends a marriage or registered domestic partnership. Each person is legally free to marry or register a new domestic partnership.
- Unlike a divorce, to complete an annulment, you must have a hearing before a judge.
- Unlike divorce, the couple does not have to meet California's residency requirements to get an annulment.
The only two grounds for divorce in California are:
- irreconcilable differences, or
- permanent legal incapacity to make decisions.
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. Sometimes you will hear this referred to as a "no fault" divorce. This means that you can get a divorce without having to prove that someone did something wrong or is "at fault" for the divorce. The only thing the court is interested in is helping the separating spouses or partners reach a fair agreement about how their life will change 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. 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.
A Divorce is final after two things happen:
- the 6-month waiting period is over, and
- the judge signs a divorce judgment.
1. The Waiting Period
You cannot legally end your marital status until it has been at least (6) months and one day FROM the date that:
- the Respondent was served with the divorce papers,
- The Respondent filed a Response (if they filed on at all).
NOTE: The divorce does not become final automatically at the end of six (6) months. One of the parties must complete the judgment paperwork.
2. The Filed Signed Judgment
One of the spouses or partners prepares the judgment form (FL-180), with appropriate attachments, and submits it to the Court for a judge to sign. If the paperwork is complete and the judge does not have any questions:
- A judge signs the divorce Judgment (Form FL-180).
- A court clerk mails the divorce judgment to each spouse or partner, with the date that the judgment was filed stamped in the upper right corner.
What day am I no longer legally married or in a domestic partnership?
You can find the date your legal status as married or in a domestic partnership ends on either Judgment (Form FL-180) or the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-190). Look for the language that says that date the status ended or was terminated. You cannot remarry or enter into a domestic partnership until this date.>
An "Uncontested" Case
A case is "uncontested" when you and your spouse or partner CAN AGREE about the money and parenting issues in your case.
- In many cases, the filing of a Response document may not be necessary by your spouse or partner.
- Most uncontested family law cases require little in-person contact with the court. Many issues can be resolved through the mail.
A "Contested" Case
When you and your spouse or partner CANNOT AGREE on one or more issues in the case, this is a "contested" case. This includes if your spouse or partner files a Response.
If you are in a contested case, you may want to try mediation or another form of dispute resolution instead of a court trial. This can save emotional and financial resources.
If child support, spousal or partner support are issues in your case, you can contact the court's office of the Family Law Facilitator for help.
Separation or divorce is a legal process, but it is also a difficult emotional process. You and your family will surely feel the impact of the changes going on in your life.
Here are some suggestions:
- If you and your spouse or partner can't agree about parenting responsibilities or money issues, get help from a mediator or mental health professional.
- Keep your children out of the conflict between. Set aside your own emotions whenever possible and think of the "best interests" of your children.
Some Tips on Helping Your Children Cope With Your Divorce:
- Do not keep the divorce a secret from your children or wait until the last minute to discuss it.
- Tell your children together.
- Keep things simple and straightforward.
- Assure them that the divorce is not their fault.
- Admit that a divorce will be sad and upsetting for everyone.
- Reassure your children that you both still love them and will always be their parents.
- Do not discuss each other's faults or problems with the children. This could cause children to feel as though they have to choose which parent to love.
- Be alert so signs of distress in your child and respond with patience and love.
- If a child shows ongoing signs of distress, discuss it with your family doctor or pediatrician and acquire a referral to psychiatric and/or other metal health services for you and your child.
For more suggestions, please read our page on
Normally, it does not matter who is the first to file the divorce papers.
The court does not give any preference to the first person to file (the Petitioner), or any disadvantage to the person who is the Respondent.
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 $45,000 total property (excluding cars).
- have less than $45,000 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.
Get more information about Summary Dissolution.
NOTE: 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.
There are three reasons you might have for wanting to stop the Summary Dissolution:
- You have decided to return to your spouse and continue the marriage;
- You may want to change over to the Regular Dissolution (divorce) as a better way of getting your divorce; or
- A spouse learns she is pregnant.
Either spouse may change his or her mind and decide to stop the Summary Dissolution from continuing.
To do this, fill out a:
- Notice of Revocation of Petition for Summary Dissolution (Form FL-830)
and file it at family court.
- The Notice of Revocation form should be filed at court less than six months after the Joint Petition form was filed.
- If your spouse has not yet filed a Request for Final Judgment form, you can still revoke the Summary Divorce by filing the Revocation form.
- The Notice of Revocation should only be filled out if you want to stop the divorce.
Separation and divorce are really difficult, but most couples work through their issues one by one. They reach their own agreements about how they want to restructure their lives.
If you are able to agree on your issues, you can often avoid having a court hearing by submitting your agreement as a
If handling all of your issues on your own gets difficult, you can get help in working out an agreement that resolves all of your money, parenting, or other issues by:
- Hiring a private mediator who has experience helping people with these issues
- Getting expert information from accountants, realtors, business evaluators or others
- Working with a counselor or therapist to help you focus on your child's needs
To find private mediators in your area, you can:
- look in the telephone directory
- look on the Internet
- ask a family law attorney or therapist
People without lawyers can start with the Family Law Facilitator's office.
In most cases, you have to pay a fee to file papers with the court.
If a person can’t afford the court’s filing fees, there are forms he or she may file asking permission to not pay all or some of the court fees and costs. This is called getting the fees “waived,” and fee waiver packets are available at the courthouse for free, or can be downloaded from this site.
Eligibility for the fee waiver is based upon the person’s household income or if he or she is receiving public assistance. If a person files a fee waiver but is found not to be qualified, he or she must pay the appropriate filing fees.
To see if you qualify for a fee waiver, read: Information Sheet on Waiver of Court Fees and Costs (Form FW-001-INFO).
A Restraining Order is a court order. It can require the person to stop threatening or hurting a person with whom he or she has a close relationship, his or her children, or the people who live with him or her.
Restraining Orders can also tell someone to:
- stop calling,
- move out,
- stay away from where the person seeking protection lives or works,
- give up a gun,
- limit the time he or she spends with their children,
- pay certain bills,
- pay child support,
- release or return certain property, or
- pay some or all of the attorney fees for the person seeking protection.
If a person seeking protection gets a Restraining Order, he or she can ask a police officer, sheriff's deputy, or other law enforcement officer to make the person to be restrained do what the Order says.
These Orders can last for as little as a week, or as long as five years.
NOTE: If someone gets a Restraining Order, he or she should be ready to not see or talk to the person to be restrained as long as the Restraining Order is in effect.
Learn how to
Every person who is being affected by a court case has a constitutional right to be notified of the proceedings. This is called "service of process" and is required for each document that is filed with the court.
Some documents have to be delivered in person, while others can be delivered by mail. In any case, you cannot serve your own documents. You may hire a professional process server or get a friend to serve the documents for you.
Contact a lawyer if:
- You don't know where your spouse or domestic partner is;
- Your spouse or domestic partner is in the military, in jail, or living out of state; or
- You're having a difficult time serving the forms.
See the California Self Help Center for help finding a lawyer anywhere in the state.
In some counties the Family Law Facilitator can help you with these problems.
If you were never served with any papers, the court may have ordered a “default judgment” or order against you. You may be able to have the default and judgment canceled (called "set aside"). But you must act as soon as you find out that there was a default judgment. If you don't act soon, the court may refuse to set the judgment aside.
This is a complicated legal problem. Contact a lawyer or the Family Law Facilitator’s Office in your county for help as soon as possible.
It is VERY important for you to read and consider responding to any court papers you receive saying that a court case has started. If you don’t respond, the person filing the case can ask the judge to make court orders without waiting for any information from you. This is called a “default judgment". This may mean that the person who started the lawsuit will get everything they ask for in their papers.
If a default judgment has been entered against you (because you failed to file an Answer or appear in your case), there is a possibility that you still may be able to have the judge hear your side. A default judgment may be canceled, or “set aside” if:
- you had a very good reason for not responding to your papers and
- you try to take care of it as soon as you realize what has happened.
However, getting a default judgment set aside is a very complicated legal issue. You may need to contact an attorney for legal advice.
You can visit the Family Law Facilitator’s Office for more information.
- Find the Facilitator in your county.
If you can’t make the court hearing on the date that it is set, you may be able to ask the court to reschedule the hearing. This is called a “continuance.” You must have a very good reason in order for the court to grant your request.
A request for continuance should be made at the earliest possible time, but no later than 5 calendar days before the hearing date. When asking for a continuance:
- You must ask your spouse or partner for the continuance. If he or she refuses, you have to file what is called an “
ex parte motion” to request the court to give you a continuance.
- If continuances are requested later than the one and one-half day cutoff, then the request must be made in person on the scheduled court date.
- Normally, no more than three continuances will be granted.
Even though people sometimes want to tell the judge something, or ask the court to do something before their next court hearing, the court is generally not allowed to get new information or be asked to do something unless the other party knows what is being said or asked and has a right to respond. Anything you want to tell the judge, or ask the court to do, must be given to the court on the right form and shared with your spouse or partner.
File a Written Declaration
If you have a hearing scheduled soon, you may complete and file a:
Declaration (Form MC-030) with the court.
- First, write your information in the form of a “declaration,” made and signed under penalty of perjury.
- Then, file your declaration with the court and have it served on your former spouse or partner.
- Finally, a proof of service must be filed with the court.
The judge will then review the declaration when reviewing your file in preparation for the hearing.
If there is no hearing pending, the judge will not review your file.
If you want the court to do something, you will need to file a:
- Request for Order (form FL-300)
and accompanying forms to get a hearing scheduled.
You cannot "serve" court forms in your own case. The person who serves a copy of your papers on your spouse or partner can be anyone over the age of 18 who is NOT involved in the case.
This includes a:
- Relative (as long as they are not connected to or affected by the outcome of this court case)
- County sheriff - Call the sheriff in the county where the other parent resides to check.
NOTE: If you hire a process server, give him or her a photo of your spouse or partner (if you have one) and a list of times and places when it will be easy to find him or her. Look for a process server who is close to where your spouse or partner lives or works. Fees are often based on how far the server has to travel.
You may bring a witness to court to testify if the person is properly qualified and the information he or she will provide is relevant to the issues. You may also give the court written testimony of a witness that is prepared as a declaration. You may use this form:
- Declaration (Form MC-030)
If you decide to bring a witness, give some thought to what you expect him or her to say, and how that is important to the orders you want the court to make. Remember that the court time is usually very limited, so be sure the information the witness will provide is helpful and relevant.
Prepare, file and serve a witness list
If you intend to call live witnesses at your hearing you must prepare a witness list before the hearing. This list must include the names of all witnesses you intend to call, as well as a brief description of their expected testimony.
Once you have finished this list:
- Make two copies of the list - one for the court and one for your spouse or partner. Then take (or mail) the original and two copies to the court to be filed by a court clerk.
- You must serve a copy of this list on your spouse or partner.
- Make sure your witnesses know how to find the court and what time to be there. It might be a good idea to give them a copy of the checklist on this website for how to dress and how to behave in court.
NOTE: If you do NOT file and serve a witness list before the hearing, the court may postpone your hearing to a later time. The court could also make temporary orders to be obeyed until the new hearing takes place.
Parents who divorce need to have a plan for how they will share parenting responsibilities.
- This plan can be called a "parenting plan," a "time-share plan," or a "stipulation."
- To be legal, any plan must be in writing. It must be signed by both parents and a judge.
When parents CANNOT AGREE on a parenting plan, the judge will send them to Family Court Services. There, a court counselor or mediator can help them try to reach an agreement.
- Family Court Services Programs in California.
If you have enough money, you and your spouse or partner may hire a private mediator.
What will a child custody recommending counselor or mediator do?
The counselor or mediator will help the parents make a parenting plan that includes:
- Legal custody: how the parents will make important decisions about the children.
- Physical custody/visitation: when the children will be with each parent.
- Any special arrangements necessary to protect the parents and their children.
If the parents can't come to an agreement, the judge may ask the child custody counselor or mediator to make a recommendation.
What if one of the parents is worried about domestic violence?
- The judge should be told about the violence or abuse or any fear that this may happen.
- The counselor or mediator should be told as soon as possible. If one of the parents does not feel comfortable meeting with the abusive person, he or she can ask to meet with the counselor or mediator alone.
- If there is a restraining order in effect against the other parent, the protected person has a right to meet separately with the court's counselor or mediator. Ask about supervised visitation.
- In an abusive situation, it may help to have a restraining order. For help getting a restraining order see the
Domestic Violence section on this website.
Can the parents bring someone to the counseling or mediation session with them?
- If there is a restraining order, the protected person can bring a support person to the counseling or mediation session.
- If there is not a restraining order, ask if a support person can come to the session.
Child support is the amount of money that the court orders one parent to pay the other parent every month for the support of the child(ren).
California has a formula (called a "
- The income of the parents, and
- The amount of time they will be responsible for taking care of the children.
In addition to the basic amount of child support, the guideline provides that parents share the costs of:
- Daycare necessary for the parents to work, and
- The child's medical expenses.
Child support may also include expenses to meet special needs, such as:
- Tutors, or
- Transportation costs for visiting with each child.
Both parents will be ordered to keep their child covered by medical insurance, if it's available at no cost or at reasonable cost.
Parents who are divorcing or separating may agree on the child support plan, but a judge must approve the amount of child support payments.
When parents cannot agree on child support, the judge decides what the payment amount will be.
Child support payments are usually made until children turn 18, or 19 if they are still in high school full time, living at home, and can't support themselves.
- Parents may agree to support a child longer.
- The court may also order that both parents continue to support a disabled adult child who is not self-supporting.
You might want to contact the Family Law Facilitator who is available at no cost to help prepare forms, calculate child support according to the guideline, and provide information about how the court makes child support decisions.
For more information, please see the
In California, two parents CAN agree to any child support amount. This is true unless one parent is receiving public assistance benefits for a child frpm this marriage or domestic partnership.
However, if they CANNOT agree, the court generally has to order "guideline child support."
Guideline child support orders are based on a mathematical formula required by California law. There are computer programs such as "Support Tax" and "Dissomaster" that can use the formula to calculate the amount.
The program will ask for:
- the number of children from the marriage or domestic partnership.
- how much time each parent spends with the children.
- the number of other children supported by you or your spouse or partner.
- the cost of health insurance for the children.
- the cost of child care to allow a parent to work or go to school, and
- other information about the income and finances of both parents.
Then, the program calculates the guideline support amount.
If you want help calculating guideline support you can contact an attorney or the office of the Family Law Facilitator. The Facilitator's Office calculates these numbers for free.
The court can only order non-guideline support in very rare cases.
The Child Support Case Registry is a national database that, among other things, is used to locate absent parents. The Child Support Case Registry form that both parents must complete and file will not be put into the court file. Instead, the form will be sent to the State of California and kept in a confidential file there.
If the court has been asked to order a parent to make child support payments:
BOTH parents must fill out and file a:
- Child Support Case Registry (Form FL-191)
- The parent asking the court to order child support must deliver to the court clerk a completed Registry Form FL-191 along with their request for the court order.
- The other parent must file the form within 10 days after he or she received the support order.
If the Department of Child Support Services is involved in your case:
You must keep the court or the local child support agency informed of any changes in your address or phone number. If any of your contact information changes, you must get a new copy of the Child Support Case Registry (Form FL-191), fill it out, and deliver it to the court or local child support agency within 10 days of the change.
If one parent receives public assistance benefits for a child of this marriage or registered domestic partnership, and is asking the other parent to pay some child support, the local child support agency has to approve the amount of child support that will be paid.
Before the divorce can become final:
The judge cannot finalize the divorce and order child support to be paid unless the child support agency has approved the amount.
- The parent that is requesting that child support be paid must take or send a copy of his or her completed:
- Judgment (Form FL-180) and
to the local child support agency in the county that is paying the benefits, or that has filed papers involving a child of this marriage or domestic partnership.
- The local child support agency must read and sign the proposed Judgment to show that they approve.
- Then, the parent requesting the support must file the signed original of the final document with the court clerk, along with his or her other forms.
When a couple separates or divorces, one spouse or partner may need the other to pay them money each month. This is called "spousal or partner support."
If the couple can agree on the amount of, and length of time for, spousal or partner support, then they can write down their agreement. They will need to get their agreement notarized.
If they cannot agree on an amount, they can ask the court to decide.
Temporary Spousal or Partner Support Orders
Either spouse or partner can ask for support to be paid while their case is going on.
- Many counties have formulas for calculating the amount of a temporary spousal or partner support order. Computer programs like "Dissomaster" calculate temporary spousal or partner support. This formula cannot be used to calculate the final spousal or partner support order. Instead, the court will consider the factors listed below.
Final, or "Post Judgment" Spousal or Partner Support Orders
The judge will take many things into consideration when deciding what spousal or partner support should be ordered, such as:
- How long the couple has been married or in a domestic partnership;
- The age and health of each spouse or partner;
- How much income each can earn on his or her own;
- What the expenses of each spouse or partner are;
- Whether there are minor children; and
- How the couple handled money during the marriage or domestic partnership.
Spousal or partner support ends when:
- A court order or judgment says it ends,
- One of the spouses or partners dies, or
- The person getting support gets married or enters into a domestic partnership.
Spousal or partner support can be a complicated legal issue. You may talk to the Family Law Facilitator in your county, or seek advice from an attorney.
A marriage or domestic partnership makes two people one legal "community." When the marriage or domestic partnership ends, dividing that legal community's property can be complicated. The definitions below can help you sort it out.
- "Community Property" is property that a couple bought during the marriage or domestic partnership. In California, each spouse or partner owns one-half of this property. This is true unless one of them got the property as a gift or inheritance.
- "Community Debts" are debts acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership. Each spouse or partner is responsible for one-half of this debt.
- "Separate Property" is property one spouse or partner owned/earned before he or she entered a marriage or domestic partnership, or property acquired after the couple separated. It can also be property that the spouse or partner got during the marriage or domestic partnership through inheritance or as gift.
- "Separate Debts" are debts acquired before the marriage or domestic partnership, or after the separation.
Many separating couples can divide their property in a way that they both feel is fair.
If you have a question about whether something is community property, separate property, or mixed, please consult a lawyer for advice. The same is true if you are unsure about how a debt should be paid.
- Find low-cost legal aid.
The State of California tries to help couples that want to get divorced to do it in a way that is relatively calm and cooperative. One way it tries to do this is to require each spouse or domestic partner to make a "full and accurate" list of everything each one owns and owes. This is called "disclosure."
Disclosure of all financial matters is considered an essential step toward the creation of a fair settlement agreement between the two spouses or partners. The exchange of "preliminary" and "final" declarations of disclosure (lists of what is owned and owed) is required under California Family Code, Section 2100.
If your spouse or partner will not complete disclosure fully, then you may have to ask the court to order him or her to obey the law.
NOTE: If you find yourself in this situation, you may want to consult with an attorney. Find low-cost legal aid.
If you and your spouse or partner have disagreements about money issues, like child support, spousal or partner support, or how to divide property or debts, mediation may help.
You can hire a private mediator to help you agree about money AND parenting issues. But it is not required.
- Private mediators are usually lawyers or mental health professionals.
- They usually charge between $150 and $350 an hour.
- Usually both spouses or partners share this cost.
To find a mediator in your area, you can:
- Check your local telephone directory (most have a section for mediation)
- Search on the Internet
- Contact a community organization
- Contact your local court to see if it has a mediation panel.
A court clerk may return your court forms without filing them if you leave out a required form, or some information on a form, or if it's not clear what you are asking for.
- The clerk must enclose an Instruction Sheet that tells you what you need to do before the forms can be accepted for filing.
- If you're not sure what needs to be done to solve the problem, you may want to
talk to an attorney. Find low-cost legal aid.
Sometimes, the forms will be returned to you with a request that you set a court hearing. This usually means that you are asking for something that the judge needs more information about.
- If the court requests that you set a hearing ask how to do this. You will most likely need to give notice of the hearing to your spouse or partner.
- When you attend your hearing, be sure to bring anything the clerk's letter asks for, as well as your copies of all the forms you have prepared or received for your case.
For any divorce to become final, a judge has to look over the:
- Judgment (Form FL-180) and sign it.
He or she will check that:
- there is a Parenting Plan that includes custody, visitation and support;
- there is an order for spousal or partner support if necessary;
- there has been full disclosure of what is owned and owed;
- community property is being divided equally, and
- any other necessary court orders have been made.
Generally, the spouses or partners can decide:
- If their case can be finished by mailing in or dropping off the completed forms at court,
- Or if they want their judgment forms reviewed by a judge at a court hearing. If they do, one or both of them must attend.
If you want your judgment forms reviewed by a judge at a court hearing:
- If the case is uncontested, the hearing is short and only one of the spouses or partners is required to attend.
- Usually, the spouse or partner at the hearing has to answer any of the judge's questions. They may have to correct anything that is not clear from the forms.
- If there is a problem, the judge can tell the spouse or partner what has to be corrected. He or she will get a new hearing date that allows enough time to make the changes.
If you want your judgment approved by mail, you need to fill out and file one
- Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (Form FL-170)
- Some people prefer this method because they have prepared a
Stipulated Judgment, a Settlement Agreement, or because they have no property, debts, children or spousal/partner support requests.
- Even if the spouses or domestic partners have property, debts, children, and support issues, many prefer this method because they don't have to go to court.
When you started your divorce, you did a "preliminary disclosure." That is, you shared what you owed and owned with your spouse or partner. You did this by filling out four or five forms and having them "served" on your spouse or partner. Probably your spouse or partner did the same thing. He or she filled out the forms and had copies served on you.
Now that you are getting ready to begin life as a single person, you need to make sure that all of your financial information is complete and up-to-date. This is so final decisions can be made about dividing all of your
You DO NOT have to do "Final Disclosure" IF:
- Your spouse or partner has not filed a Response to your Petition for Divorce, or any other papers with the court, and has not signed a written settlement agreement. (this is a "True Default" case)
- You and your spouse or partner agree in writing to skip ("waive") your final Declarations of Disclosure.
If you and your spouse or partner agree to skip ("waive") your Final Declaration of Disclosure, PLEASE NOTE THAT:
- California Family Code, Section 2105(d) requires that very specific language be included in your final agreement filed with the court.
If you DO need to do "Final Disclosure":
You must update all of your preliminary disclosure forms:
- Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140)
See the instructions for this form.
- Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142)
See the instructions for this form.
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150)
See the instructions for this form.
- Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141)
See the instructions for this form.
Declaration of Disclosure:
Form FL-140 for Final Disclosure is a cover sheet that lists all the attached completed forms.
- You must fill out a NEW Declaration of Disclosure for final disclosure.
- You must attach an updated Income and Expense Declaration and a Schedule of Assets and Debts. This time you have to fill out all the columns on this form.
- As part of the Declaration of Disclosure, you must also write, on separate sheets of paper:
- A statement explaining how you came up with your estimated value of all assets that are all or partly community property,
- A statement listing values of the assets and obligations that you and your spouse or partner may be responsible for; and
- A list of your investment opportunities since you separated.
Attach these to the Declaration of Disclosure.
Keep the original set of forms, and make one copy of everything for your spouse or partner. You do not file these forms with the court.
- Have these forms served on your spouse or partner by mail or in person before or at the time the two of you sign your settlement agreement.
- If your case is contested, all of this must happen at least 45 days before your "first assigned trial date."
- You may have the final disclosure either mailed or hand delivered to your spouse or partner by an adult who is not a party to your case.
The only form you file with the court is the "Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure" (Form FL-141). This tells the court that you have completed and served on your spouse or partner final disclosure forms.
To establish separate property or debt, or to divide community property or debt as part of your divorce or separation Judgment, you may attach the following form to the Judgment form you file with the court:
- Property Order Attachment (Form FL-345)
Note that this form calls for one of the spouses or domestic partners to prepare and file a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order" – called a QDRO.
A QDRO grants a former spouse or domestic partner the right to participate in the other's pension, retirement, 401(k), IRA or other tax deferred account. The former spouse or partner is called an "alternate payee," and the original sole owner of the pension being divided is called a "participant." The pension itself is referred to as a "plan."
Alert! QDROs are highly technical and require approval not only by the
court but by the plan administrator. These are so specialized that most family lawyers will not draft them, but send them to a QDRO specialist instead. You may want to find a QDRO specialist to help you as well.
If you are asking the court for spousal, partner or child support or other financial orders, you are also to fill out and attach:
If there is separate property or debt, or community property or debt to divide in the judgment, fill out and attach:
Property issues can become complicated. You may wish to seek advice from an attorney who has experience in this field. Find low-cost legal aid.
If you and your spouse or partner have children together, you nust decide how to divide your parenting responsibilities. You must do this if any of your children are younger than 18.
Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment (Form FL-341)
- There's a difference between:
- Legal custody (who makes decisions about health, education, etc.), and
- Physical custody (how much time the child spends in the physical care of each parent).
- Joint custody means the parents share their parental responsibilities.
The Judicial Council has created some forms to help people make parenting agreements that follow California law. You don't have to use these forms, but they could help.
- Supervised Visitation Order (Form FL-341(A))
- Child Abduction Prevention Orders Attachment (Form FL-341(B))
- Children's Holiday Schedule Attachment (Form FL-341(C))
- Additional Provisions – Physical Custody Attachment (Form FL-341(D))
- Joint Legal Custody Attachment (Form FL-341(E))
For more information about Child Custody and Visitation, please go to the
If you are requesting child, spousal or partner support as part of your divorce or separation Judgment, you are to attach the following forms to the Judgment form you file with the court:
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150)
See the instructions for this form
- Child Support Information and Order Attachment (Form FL-342)
See the instructions for this form.
- Spousal, Partner or Family Support Order Attachment (Form FL-343)
- Notice of Rights and Responsibilities for Health Care (Form FL-192)
NOTE: No input is required. But, if you have a child support order you should read and must attach this form to your Judgment form.
- Child Support Case Registry (Form FL-191)
Registers the case in a national registry to help with enforcement.
- Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435)
See the instructions for this form.
Used to order the paying person's employer to withhold spousal support from the paycheck and send it to the other spouse or domestic partner.
- Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-195)
Used to order the paying person's employer to withhold child, spousal and partner support from the paycheck and send it to the other parent.
Spousal or partner support can become complicated. You may wish to talk to the Family Law Facilitator in your county, or to seek advice from an attorney. Find low-cost legal aid.
California Rules of Court, Rule 1.100 allows lawyers, parties, witnesses, jurors, or other people with a disability to make confidential requests for accommodations from the court.
If you have a disability (as defined by the Americans with Disability Act) and would like to request an accommodation, you may fill out a:
- Request for Accommodations by Persons With Disabilities and Response (Form MC-410)
See the instructions for this form.
- You can also make a request for an accommodation by writing a short letter to the court OR
- You can go to the court, ask a clerk for the form, fill it out, and return it to the clerk that same day.
Requests can be made at any time, although you should give the court at least 5 court days’ notice if possible.
The orders made by a judge at the time of your divorce were based on information that was correct at that time. However, over the years things may change. For example, you may lose your job, inherit large sums of money, remarry or register a new domestic partnership. Some things in your judgment can be modified (changed) by a judge. For example:
- You might ask to
change child custody or visitation orders, if one parent wants
to move out of the area, or the child's needs change.
- You might ask to
change child, spousal or partner support if there has been a change in financial circumstances.
Some orders may not be changed. Usually the division of your property is not subject to modification. Or, if you and your spouse or partner agreed that spousal or partner support may not be modified, the courts will usually follow that agreement. If you have questions about what you can and cannot ask to be changed, consider consulting an attorney who has experience in this area of the law.
If your former spouse or partner disobeys an order the court made in the divorce judgment, there are ways to enforce those orders.
- Orders to pay money can be enforced by
garnishing wages or bank accounts,
or by having the sheriff seize and sell property belonging to the person who hasn't paid.
- Orders to turn over property, or for child visitation can usually be enforced by contempt of court proceedings. In a "contempt of court" proceeding, papers are prepared and served on the disobedient person, ordering that person to appear in court. After a hearing, the judge can put the person in jail or impose a fine as necessary to make the person obey the order.
If you have questions about how to enforce certain parts of the divorce judgment, you may want to consult with an attorney who has experience in this area of the law. Find an attorney.