California state divorce laws are not that difficult to understand if you have good information. With the right advice, instructions, and explanations, you can get your own divorce started without hiring an attorney, and save a lot of money on legal fees.
This article will provide an overview of California state divorce laws in the context of how you can start your own divorce. You will learn what California law says about the roles of the Petitioner and the Respondent and implications of each role in the divorce.
The Petitioner and the Respondent. According to California Family Law Code Section 2330, every California state divorce starts with a Petition. The legal term for divorce in the code is "dissolution of marriage".
The Petitioner is the person who first files papers and gets the case started. The Respondent is the other party. A Response need not be filed, but it is a good idea, otherwise the inactive person has little say about when or how the divorce is completed, unless there is already a written agreement. In order to become officially involved in the divorce, the Respondent will need to fill out and file California Family Law Form FL-120 (the Response).
In general, the more both parties participate, the better. After a Response is filed, the divorce can be completed only by written agreement or court trial. Agreement is better.
Equality. Once a Response is filed, the Respondent has equal standing and there is no legal difference between the parties or their rights, and either party can take any available legal step.
The Petition. So if you are the one who will start your divorce, you will be the Petitioner, and you will need to fill out California Family Law Forms FL-100 (the Petition) and FL-110 (the Summons) and file them with the Clerk at the appropriate courthouse. According to California state divorce law (as described in Family Law Code Section 2331), you will then need to serve your divorce papers on your spouse.
The only thing you need to know before you do this is that you want a divorce. The issues can all be sorted out and resolved later. However, it would be smart to learn the basics about California state divorce law before you start.
Advantages to serving the Petition:
♦ Starts the clock ticking on waiting periods. California state divorce law states that the Respondent has 30 days to respond.
♦ Causes automatic restraining orders to take effect, as per the instructions on the back of Family Law Form FL-110 (the Summons).
♦ Has psychological value for Petitioner and tells Respondent a divorce is really going to happen.
♦ Helps establish the date of separation. According to California state divorce law, the date of separation is whenever you can prove that one spouse intended to make a complete, final break (not just a temporary separation), with simultaneous conduct furthering that intent.
Possible downside. Serving papers can upset your spouse and stir up conflict if you don’t properly prepare him or her ahead of time.
Getting a smooth start. Unless your soon-to-be Ex is an abuser/controller, you will probably want to start things off as nicely as possible. An abrupt start will probably increase conflict as an upset spouse is more likely to run to an attorney who will probably make your case more complicated.
So take some time to prepare your Ex and let him/her get used to the idea that a divorce is about to start. If you aren’t comfortable discussing things in person, write a nice letter. Let your spouse know you are committed to working out a settlement that you can both agree to and live with. Unless you are under time pressure, don’t serve your Summons and Petition until your partner seems ready to receive the papers calmly.
The Response. A Response should be filed within 30 days of receiving the Summons and Petition, but can be filed any time before Petitioner declares the Respondent’s default.
Filing a Response is not an aggressive act. In fact, it is usually a good idea for the Respondent to take part in the action, especially if you have kids or property or debts to be divided. It is easy to do.
The only disadvantages are Respondent’s filing fee of about $320 for a California divorce, and the possibility that you might have to file a questionnaire about your case in order to avoid a case conference hearing.
There are numerous advantages to filing a Response. If there’s no Response, Respondent has little control over when and how the divorce is completed, so the Respondent feels insecure. By filing, Respondent joins the case on an equal standing with Petitioner, so Respondent feels more a part of the process, more in the loop, more confident. Experience and studies show that the more Respondent participates, and understands the California state divorce process, the better the outcome is likely to be.