If you are wondering how to file for divorce in California, it’s not particularly difficult. Only a few forms are required. They need to be filled out and then taken to the court clerk along with the filing fee.
Two excellent resources as regards how to file for divorce and fill out the required forms are the court’s website and a best-selling book by Ed Sherman called “How to Do Your Own Divorce In California.” The book gets updated every year.
The forms that are always required are the petition and the summons. The Petition (FL-100) starts a divorce case.
What you write on the petition can be very important and can affect the outcome of the case. It is important to be accurate and complete. There are two basic approaches for the key sections 6-10. Either the petitioner spells out what he/she would like to be granted in the divorce or the petitioner can indicate that the required decisions for the divorce (co-parenting plan, child support, spousal support and division of assets and debts) will be communicated to the court in a written agreement.
If you plan to resolve your divorce in a non-adversarial manner on your own or perhaps with divorce mediation, there are advantages to the latter approach which Ed Sherman explains in chapter 10 of the book above. The main potential advantage is avoiding the court filing fee for a Response to the petition. You of course can consult with an attorney or hire a Legal Document Assistant or paralegal to help with the preparation of the petition.
If you and your spouse have minor children together, you will also need to fill out form FL-105, which simply provides information about your children for a state database.
Lastly, some counties have a “local form” that they require in addition to the forms above. Los Angeles County requires a cover sheet (FAM020).
How to File for Divorce – Courthouse
Make at least two copies of each completed form. Take the original and copies to your local family law courthouse. If you wish, you can have them reviewed before filing without cost by the Self-Help Center staff at the courthouse. When you are ready to file with the court clerk, have a check for the filing fee (currently $435 in most counties). You can request a fee waiver if you think you can’t afford the filing fee. The clerk will stamp the forms, keep the originals and return the copies to you.
Your divorce case is now opened. The next crucial step is to have your spouse served with the divorce papers.