Divorce in Los Angeles
Divorce is a life-changing event requiring a couple to sever a marriage bond legally, financially, and emotionally. Even when divorces or legal separations are amicable, dissolving a marriage can be complex, especially in cases with children. Issues that couples or the court must decide include settlement, division of marital assets, child custody, and spousal support.
California has distinct laws that govern divorce proceedings, and the filing process can vary from county to county. If you're preparing for a divorce, discover how California and Los Angeles County handles the divorce process.
California Divorce Process: How Divorce Works
Divorce terminates a marriage or domestic partnership. You may also hear a divorce proceeding called a marriage dissolution.
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However, a divorce is different from a legal separation. When a couple legally separates, each person lives apart but stays married to one another. Couples who are legally separated can't enter into a domestic partnership or remarry during the separation.
Los Angeles residents can pursue a divorce in Los Angeles Superior Court. Follow a brief overview of the process below:
1. Summons and Petition for Marriage Dissolution
The person asking for a divorce is the petitioner; the person responding is the respondent. A petitioner, the person who asks for a divorce, files a petition with the court. The court serves, or presents, the petition to a respondent, along with a summons. The summons informs a respondent to appear in court on a specific date. The respondent has 30 days to file a response before the court can enter a default judgment in the other party's favor.
2. Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure
This document is not filed with the court. Instead, each spouse presents the declaration to one another. The preliminary declaration of disclosure lists each spouse's income, assets, and debts.
3. Final Declaration of Disclosure
If both spouses can agree on all issues, they then need to serve one another with final declarations of disclosure. This document includes the same type of information as the preliminary declaration of disclosure, but provides updates as needed. Spouses can waive this requirement in their divorce agreement if both parties agree to the terms of the divorce.
4. Marital Settlement Agreement
If the spouses agree on all issues, no trial is necessary. The parties can then go ahead with a marital settlement agreement that spells out the terms of the divorce.
5. Discovery, Arbitration, and Mediation
If the spouses disagree on all or some of the issues in the divorce, they'll need to enter the discovery process to decide upon and exchange the evidence they will present at trial. If the couple disagrees on custody issues, they'll have to complete the court-sponsored parenting class — called PACT — and meet with a mediator from Family Court Services. If spouses disagree on property issues, the court can require the couple to enter arbitration to fairly divide the marital property.
If spouses still can't agree on all issues, the divorce case goes to trial. The divorce attorneys in Los Angeles, or any California city, for both sides will share evidence gathered for the trial.
7. Divorce Judgment
Whether a couple goes to trial or not, the final step in a divorce proceeding occurs when the judge issues a divorce judgment. Parties can file motions to change this judgment about issues such as family matters, child custody, child support, and visitation.
Preparing to File for Divorce
California is a no-fault divorce state. In other words, to get a divorce, neither spouse has to prove that the other did something wrong. Instead, to qualify for a no-fault divorce, one spouse must claim that the couple has irreconcilable differences, issues that prevent a couple from getting along.
Once you decide that you want to file for divorce, you might want to consult a family law attorney to help plan your case. Having a strategy and professional counsel at the beginning can help you save time and money further into the process.
If you plan to file for a divorce in California, you or your spouse has to live in the state for at least six months before the filing date. If you plan on filing for divorce in Los Angeles, you'll also need to have lived in Los Angeles County for at least three months by the time you file.
Your role in a divorce proceeding will depend on whether you're the petitioner or respondent. One spouse, the petitioner, files for divorce, and the other spouse, the respondent, files a response within 30 days of receiving the divorce petition and summons. Failing to respond to the petition will not stop the divorce proceeding. The petitioner can ask for a default judgment from the court, a judgment granting the divorce automatically, if the respondent fails to answer the petition within 30 days of receiving it.
Filing for Divorce
Below are the steps you'll need to take to file for divorce in Los Angeles:
1. Complete court forms a.k.a. California divorce forms or papers. To start a divorce proceeding, you'll need to complete a petition, Form FL-100, and a summons, Form FL-110.
2. File the necessary forms with the clerk of court. If you live in Los Angeles County, you can use the Los Angeles Superior Court's website to find out where you need to file your divorce papers. You'll need to pay a filing fee of $435, a fee you can ask the court to waive if you meet the income requirements.
3. Serve your spouse with the divorce papers. Someone age 18 or older must present, or serve, your spouse with the divorce petition and summons. You can have a friend or relative, a sheriff's deputy, or a professional process-server handle this task for you.
4. Complete and serve financial disclosure forms. These forms let your spouse know how much you make, what you owe, and what you own. You need to serve your spouse with these forms no later than 60 days after your filing date.
Issues Arising in California Divorce Cases
Couples will need to agree on certain issues to get a divorce or the court will decide for them if they can't agree. Issues that arise in a divorce can be complicated and often require the help of an attorney or family law facilitator. Below are some of the central issues that typically arise in a divorce and what criteria judges consider:
• Spousal support. As part of a divorce settlement, the court can order one party to make spousal support payments, or alimony, to the other spouse. Issues the court will consider when granting spousal support include the length of the marriage, what factors would be needed to maintain a spouse's standard of living, the earning capacity of both spouses, and the training and education of both spouses.
• Custody. In deciding custody and visitation issues in a divorce, the court will apply the best interests of the child standard.
• Property. California is a community property state. In other words, the court will always equally divide the couple's marital property unless the situation would be inequitable or unfair.
• Debt division. California also considers debts incurred during the marriage to be community property and typically splits them equally, even if the account or loan was solely in one spouse's name. Student loans are the only exception and are treated as separate property debts.
Divorce proceedings can be especially challenging to navigate on your own. Not only are divorces emotionally stressful, they can be legally and financially difficult as well. A family law attorney — or in cases with children, a child support attorney — can help you strategize and map out your case to make sure the divorce process is as smooth as possible.