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How is a Divorce Started in California?

Posted by Michael Geller | Aug 01, 2022 | 0 Comments

In California, starting the divorce process is relatively straightforward. Though, it is important to note that divorce process overall can become quite complex and is fraught with potential pitfalls and issues that could cause the divorce proceedings to last for months or even years.

However, let's start at the beginning. In order to start a divorce or legal separation in California, you begin by filling out two court forms: a Petition and a Summons. Let's take a look at the relevant forms.

Complete the FL-100 Form 

The FL-100 form is formally known as the Petition for Dissolution (Divorce) of Marriage/Domestic Partnership. In California, all family law forms begin with “FL” to denote the affiliation with family law. Completing the FL-100 form requires inputting the following information:

  • Full legal name
  • Direct contact phone number (likely your mobile number)
  • Address (this does not have to be your home address since the courts understand that you may be living elsewhere temporarily; you can include a P.O. Box or other address)
  • Email address
  • In the “attorney for,” section you can either list the name of your Contra Costa County divorce lawyer or you can input “in pro per” which basically means you are representing yourself.
  • The county in which you reside (this will determine which superior court oversees your divorce)
  • The name of your spouse (place this in the Respondent section)
  • Select your legal relationship with your spouse
  • Enter relevant statistical facts
  • State whether you have children with your spouse
  • Enter the legal grounds for the divorce
  • Enter the type of child custody you prefer
  • Enter whether you are seeking child support and/or spousal support
  • Advise whether there is separate property, along with community property and quasi-community property
  • Enter other requests such as attorney's fees or restoration to a maiden name

The Petition will be filed with the court clerk, at which time a case file number will be assigned. A copy of the filed Petition will then need to be delivered to your spouse, along with a Summons.

Properly completing the FL-100 form can be challenging for many people since the form requires, at a very early stage, indicating preferences that are extremely sensitive and important issues such as child custody, spousal support, division of property, and so forth. This is why it makes sense to retain the services of a top-notch Contra Costa County divorce attorney sooner rather than later.

Complete the FL-110 Form / Be Aware of ATROs

The FL-110 is formally known as the Summons in family law. This form is relatively easy to fill out. This form requires filling in the name of the respondent, the name of the petitioner, the name and address of the court, and finally, the name, address, and telephone number of the petitioner or the petitioner's attorney. It is then stamped, dated, and signed by the Clerk of the Court, and needs to be served on the respondent.

Page 2 of the Summons contains important information known as the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders, or commonly referred to by attorneys as, Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROs). These are 4 specific orders that cannot be violated by the petitioner and the respondent once the case has been filed with the court:

  1. Petitioner and respondent cannot remove any minor children from the State of California or apply for any passports for these minor children without prior written consent from the other party or an order of the court,
  1. Petitioner and respondent cannot cash out, borrow against, cancel, transfer, dispose of, change the beneficiaries of any insurance coverage for the benefit of the parties and their minor children,
  1. Petitioner and respondent cannot transfer, encumber, hypothecate, conceal, or dispose of any property without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life, and
  1. Petitioner and respondent cannot create a non-probate transfer or modify a non-probate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court.

Petitioner and respondent must also notify each other of any proposed extraordinary expenses at least 5 business days prior to incurring these expenses and must account to the court for extraordinary expenses made after these restraining orders are in effect. Finally, community property may be used to hire an attorney or to pay court fees.

Spouse Must Complete FL-120 Form

The FL-120 form is formally known as the Response and Request for Dissolution (Divorce) of Marriage/Domestic Partnership. As mentioned earlier, you will need to serve your FL-100 form (i.e. the Divorce Petition) and a Summons to your spouse. Your spouse will then need to complete the FL-120 form (i.e. the Response to the divorce petition) within 30 days of receipt. If your spouse fails to file a formal response within 30 days, you can request that a court decide the case without the input of your spouse (also known as a default divorce).

Exactly how the divorce case proceeds, and what other forms may need to be filed, will depend largely on your spouse's level of cooperation and participation in the process.

Six Months or Longer

It is important to note that getting a divorce in California is, at the very least, a six-month process. Why? Because there is a mandatory six-month waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. This six month waiting period is also known as a “cooling off“ period whereby the state legislature wanted to provide a window of time in which the parties could consider reconciliation rather than “rushing” to get divorced.

Need Assistance Filing for Divorce in Contra Costa County? Contact The Geller Firm Today

If you are looking for assistance in filing for divorce in Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, or Contra Costa County, California, consider contacting The Geller Firm. Our team of experienced and respected Lafayette divorce attorneys are here to help during this difficult time. We are located in the San Francisco Bay Area and are proud to provide legal services in San Jose, Oakland, Palo Alto, Pleasanton, and the surrounding cities. Our legal team is available for virtual and in-person consultations. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

About the Author

Michael Geller

Michael Geller is an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California.


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