12 Steps to Divorce

1. Separation

When the couple agree that they cannot or should no longer stay together, one of them usually leaves. Sometimes, because of money issues, they can’t afford to split entirely, and one of the parties sleeps in a separate room or in a studio. The intent of the parties is important when the date of separation is in dispute.

The date of separation has legal significance.

2. File Dissolution Petition

The Petition for Dissolution (Form FL-100) must be filed at the court. There is a filing fee of about $350. The Summons (FL-110) must also be issued by the court, so the Petition can be properly served.

There are certain jurisdictional requirements. You must live in the County in which you file (or the other spouse must so reside) in order for the court to have jurisdiction.

3. Service of Papers

Service means delivery to the other spouse by some competent adult besides the Petitioner. It can be a friend, family member or someone hired for that purpose. A Proof of Service (FL-115) must be filed with the court.

If the separation is civil and reasonably amicable, a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt (FL-117) can be mailed to the other spouse. However, if the other spouse doesn’t fill out the Notice and Acknowledgement correctly, there may still have to be personal service (delivery other than by the mailman).

4. Response or Default

The served spouse (the Respondent) has 30 days to file her/his Response (FL-120) with the court. There is another $350 filing fee to be paid. The Response is also mailed to the Petitioner.

If the parties are in substantial agreement on all issues, they may decide that the case go by Default (FL-165). In that instance, the served spouse does nothing and her/his Default is taken by the Petitioner. At that point the served spouse has little if anything to say about what happens in the balance of the case.

5. Preliminary Disclosures

The parties must complete Preliminary Disclosures. These include a Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142). The Schedule (the pages with all the columns) gets exchanged by the spouses and not filed with the court. The Proof of Filing (FL-140) does get filed with the court. These forms are all downloadable from the web.

6. Income and Expense Declaration

The Income and Expense Declaration (I&E) is FL 150, a form downloadable from the web. It provides a current snapshot of income as well as a 12 month history. It also requires that each spouse indicate actual or estimated current expenses and a summary of asset values. Like many of the Family Law Forms, this is a form completed under Penalty of Perjury.

7. Co-Parent Class

If you have minor children, you must attend a three hour Co-Parent class. You do not have to attend with your spouse. Online classes are not acceptable in Santa Cruz County.

8. Status Conference

The court schedules Status Conferences every four months or so, to be certain that your case isn’t lost and that you are progressing at a reasonable pace. If you want something more than scheduling to happen, you’ll need to set a Motion (see #9). There is a form (SUPCV-1034) that can be downloaded from the Court website and should be filed at least ten days before your scheduled Status Conference.

9. Motions and Orders to Show Cause

Money and custody issues require a hearing set on the court’s calendar. You can’t just bring it up because you both happen to be there for something else. Notice must be sent. Supporting Declarations are favored. Points and Authorities may be required. You don’t need a lawyer for this, but advice from someone would be helpful. The form numbers are FL-300 and FL-301. The Self-Help Center at the Watsonville Courthouse can give you free assistance in completing these forms.

Support motions are usually dealt with in court by the Judge using the Dissomaster computer program. This program calculates Spousal Support and Child Support based on certain factors, including income, parenting time, tax advantages of home ownership, health insurance expense, union dues and other factors. Child Support can be calculated by you in advance using the California Guideline Calculator at https://www.cse.ca.gov/ChildSupport/cse/guidelineCalculator or by going to the Self-Help Center at the Watsonville Courthouse.

10. Final Disclosures

Unless the parties agree to waive and the court so orders, there must be a second set of financial disclosures.

11. Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement

If there is anything to divide, a written Agreement should be prepared. These Agreements may be one page, plain English, simply stating Mary gets this and Tom gets that, or a Marital Settlement Agreement with pages and pages of parts and sub-parts.

12. Judgment

The Divorce is not final until the Judge signs a Judgment (FL-180) and it is filed with a Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190), which is then served on the parties. When you receive the Filed Judgment, your Divorce is FINAL!