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How Divorce Proceedings Work in California

How Divorce Proceedings Work in CaliforniaLike most states, California provides for divorce on a “no fault” basis. This means that there is no need for a demonstration as to whom or what has caused a marriage to fail. Instead, a spouse initiating a divorce must only cite “irreconcilable differences.”


The beginning point for a divorce is when one party files a petition and a summons with the Superior Court in the county in which she resides. After the filing of these forms, the petitioner arranges for a copy of the forms to be served on her spouse. Service of the forms must be made by someone other than the petitioner who is at least 18 years of age, and there is a specific form to be completed to show that the forms were personally handed to the receiving spouse, who becomes known as the “respondent.”


The respondent has 30 days to file a response with the court and to deliver a copy to the petitioner in the same manner as the petition was provided to him. After the response is filed, the petitioner and respondent complete financial forms that document the marital assets and debts so that an equitable property division may be determined by the court. For more information about property division in California, see my earlier blog here.


Marital assets and debts are those that were accumulated during the period of the marriage. They do not include any accrued by either spouse before marriage or after the date of separation. For information about the law’s handling of separate and apart, see my blog here. Marital assets also do not include anything that was inherited individually by either party, even during the marriage.


Sometimes, the parties can work amicably to decide how their assets and debts can be divided. In this case, a proposed agreement will be presented to the court and will be made part of the final divorce decree. If no agreement is achieved, the parties will attend a mandatory settlement conference. Any issues that remain unresolved at the settlement conference will be brought before a judge, who will make the final determination of the distribution.

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as “alimony,” may be considered and awarded by the court. Many factors are considered by the court in awarding spousal support, such as the length of the marriage or partnership, the marital standard of living, and each party’s income earning capacity and needs. For a complete listing of the factors considered by California courts in awarding spousal support, see my earlier blog here. If the parties come to an agreement on spousal support, the court will normally accept that and incorporate it in the decree.


When the parties have minor or dependent children, child support and child custody must also determined. As with the other matters, an agreement between the parties will be accepted by the court. For a complete discussion about how child support is determined in California, see my blog here.


The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law, including the dissolution of  marriages and domestic partnerships. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help you proceed through the divorce process while protecting your rights or those of loved ones: (415) 298-8314.

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