How to Fill Out Divorce Papers in California
By Beverly Bird
Most states make it easy to complete divorce forms, and California is even more accommodating than most. The state’s website offers a form for a divorce petition that only requires you to fill in the blanks. However, it's easy to become confused over just what you’re supposed to say in those blanks. Consult a family attorney if you have any questions.
Determine in which California county you’ll be filing for divorce. This should be the county where you resided for the past three months. Go online to find the address of the court and write this in at the top of your petition, along with identifying information for you and your spouse and your contact information. Check the box that says you want a dissolution of marriage.
Write the date you were married on line 2a and the date you separated on line 2b. If you’re still living together, that’s OK. Write in the current date, because this is the time when you decided to end your marriage.
List identifying information for your children in paragraph 3, including their full names, dates of birth and gender. If you don’t have children, check box 3a.
Itemize anything you own that you want to claim as your separate property in paragraph 4. These items are not subject to distribution with your spouse at the time of your divorce and include property you owned before you got married and inheritances or gifts you received while you were married. List all other property in paragraph 5.
Choose your divorce ground in paragraph 6. California is a no-fault state, so your only options are irreconcilable differences or that your spouse is incurably insane.
Tell the court in paragraph 7 what you want from the divorce. In legal terms, these are your “prayers for relief.” Tell the court how you want to deal with custody, if you have children. If you’re filing for divorce, you are the petitioner and your spouse is the respondent. Check the appropriate boxes regarding with whom the children will live, what their visitation will be with their other parent and which of you will have legal custody, which simply means the parent who will make all important decisions regarding your children.
Check the box on line 7f if you're asking for alimony. This doesn’t necessarily mean the court will give it to you, but you generally can’t get it unless you ask in your petition. If you have marital property that the court must divide between you, check box 7h.
If you have children, the court will automatically calculate child support and enter an order for it at the time of your divorce. You don’t have to do anything special to request it. This provision is already printed in paragraph 8 of your prayers for relief.
You must also complete a form called “Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act” and submit it when you file your petition with the court. This tells the court that California is your children's home state for purposes of custody disputes. No other state has the right to set custody orders for them, even if your spouse tries to seek custody elsewhere.
California is a community property state. Because of this, the date you separate or decide to end your marriage is very important. Anything you acquire during the marriage prior to this date is community property. Anything you acquire after this date is not. If you’re concerned about a particular item of property that you want to protect, consult with an attorney before you file your petition.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.