How to File for Divorce in California Without a Lawyer

Women thinking about getting a divorce without a lawyer in CA
Last Updated on April 2024

If you are reading this article, you have probably decided to end your marriage. If so, it is essential to be aware of all the steps you will have to take because divorce in the United States is a complex process that comprises multiple stages.

For this reason, many couples resort to hiring lawyers in order to get professional support throughout the divorce process. However, the important point to mention is that an attorney’s service costs thousands of dollars. Luckily, you can file for divorce without a lawyer if your case is uncontested. It means that you and your spouse have nothing to argue about, so an attorney’s involvement is simply unnecessary.

One way or another, California divorce without a lawyer is a cheap alternative that is quite popular among California residents. Below are the 9 main steps you have to handle in order to go through to file for divorce in California without  a lawyer.

Step 1: Check Compliance with the California Residency Requirements

According to California divorce law, in order to file for any kind of divorce, you must meet the residency requirements for divorce in California. You must reside for at least 180 days in the state and at least 90 days in the county to initiate a marriage dissolution process.

Besides, if you want to file without an attorney, you need to check if you are eligible for an uncontested divorce. Make sure that you have come to an agreement with your spouse concerning all the issues related to your marriage. This is an obligatory condition for those who wants to file for uncontested divorce.


Step 2: Prepare the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is basically your application for divorce and the first document you file with the court. In this form, you will need to include such important details as the date of your marriage and separation, whether you have children or not, and how you agreed on child custody and support. You will also need to state that you have resolved all the issues related to alimony, as well as assets and property division.

Step 3: File the Papers with the Court

Husband is preparing the petition for dissolution of marriage

Apart from the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, you will also need to prepare the full packet of documents to file for divorce. These are the forms required for your individual case. Since you are filing without a lawyer, you will have to search for these documents online on your own.

You will also need to fill them out correctly in order not to get a rejection from the court. Paperwork filling is often considered the most difficult step of dissolution without an attorney. That’s why many couples choose to cooperate with online divorce providers who complete a package of personalized forms for a flat fee.

As soon as the package is ready, it must be filed with the Supreme court of the county of your residence. This should be done by only one of the spouses, who will be then regarded as the Petitioner. Please note that you will have to pay a filing fee of $435. If you cannot afford to cover this amount, you can file a fee waiver. There are several situations when you can waive the fees, for example, if your gross income is lower than stated in the form FW-001, or you receive some public aid.

Step 4: Serve the Documents on the Opposing Party

Husband is serving divorce papers to his wife

The next important step is serving. After divorce petition is filed, you have to serve your spouse. This is an official notification that your dissolution process has started. In the state of California, you cannot serve the papers personally; it should be done by any third party who is older than 18 years. After that, your spouse has to file a response to divorce petition within 30 days.

Step 5: Prepare the Financial Disclosure

According to CA laws, both parties involved in the divorce case have to prepare Declarations of Disclosure and serve them to the court. While preparing financial statements, you will need to fill out several documents where you specify the financial situation of spouses, their expenses, income, and possible debts. Without disclosure, you won’t be able to receive the final judgment.

Step 6: Draft and Notarize a Marital Settlement Agreement

Spouse is notarazing settlement agreement with his wife before divorce

Divorce settlement agreement is an essential document for those who want to file for uncontested dissolution without a lawyer. As in many other states, the CA agreement concerns all the important aspects of marriage. This document should be filled by both spouses, notarized, and filed with the court.

The document must include information on:

  • Child custody, support, and visitation schedule. Before going to court, you and your spouse have to decide which type of custody each of you gets. This decision will depend on the amount of child support as well as visitation schedule or parenting time.
  • Property and assets division. If you and your ex-spouse have a lot to divide, then you should pay due attention to the property settlement agreement. Also, please note that California is a community property state. It presupposes that all the property acquired during the marriage has to be divided fairly between both parties. If your division is unfair, the judge may reject it.
  • The question of spousal support depends on many factors. In contested cases, it is granted by the court. If your case is uncontested, you will need to agree on it before the trial begins. It is generally awarded to the spouse who faces financial difficulties or is unable to provide a living on their own.

Step 7: Schedule and Attend a Court Hearing

As soon as all the steps mentioned above are completed, you can contact the court clerk who will schedule the date of the final court hearing for divorce. In the state, both you and your spouse must be present during the hearing.

You are probably wondering what happens in a divorce hearing. The judge reviews your paperwork making sure that everything is correct. If the paperwork is in order, he or she will sign the final judgment form.

Step 8: Wait for the Judgment

Judge's gavel on the table while a couple awaits a court decision in a divorce case

Even if your case is uncontested, it doesn’t mean you can get your dissolution finalized right in the court hearing. You can get a judgment in uncontested divorce after the minimum period of 6 months. During this time, the spouses have the chance to reconcile. It can last a bit longer depending on the court workload. However, as a rule, the couple gets their judgement of divorce as soon as the mandatory waiting period is over.

Step 9: Provide Additional Documents and Resolve Post-Judgment Issues

As soon as your divorce is final, you can resolve various post-judgment issues that could not be managed before. For example, you can close old credit cards, change your will, update your legal documents, get back your maiden name, etc. To apply for these services, you will need your final judgement document.

You will also need to get a copy of your divorce decree, which you can obtain in the Supreme court in the county of residence.

How To Check Whether You Need Legal Help?

Do you need an attorney to file for divorce? You may not require the legal assistance in the following cases:

  • You and your spouse have agreed on all divorce-related matters: child custody and support, visitation schedule, alimony, property division, and so on.
  • You don’t need any specific help that can be offered only by legal practitioner.
  • You simply cannot afford to cover attorney’s fees.

If you have decided not to hire a lawyer who can guide you through the divorce process, read on to find out more about the divorce steps you will need to follow.