Can an Inmate Be Served Divorce Papers While in Prison in California?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Two men talking in prison cell

Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images

California divorces follow the same general process whether a spouse is jailed or free. An inmate is not treated differently from any other defendant, as far as divorce is concerned. However, serving your incarcerated spouse with divorce papers, restraining orders or other legal documents requires the cooperation of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

To file for divorce in California, you or your spouse must have lived in California for at least the past six months and one of you must have lived in the county where you want to file for at least the past three months. If you meet these requirements, you can file your paperwork and be divorced after six months from the date your spouse is served with the paperwork. California law does not require you to prove your spouse was at fault for the divorce, instead it allows divorce based on “irreconcilable differences” between you and your spouse.


A California divorce begins when you file a Petition for Dissolution with a California court. This form gives the court basic information about your marriage and tells the court you meet the basic requirements for divorce. Then, you must serve your spouse with a copy of this petition to ensure he has a chance to respond. Your spouse doesn’t lose his rights to defend his interests because he is incarcerated.

Service on Inmate

To serve your spouse while he is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, send the documents to the litigation coordinator at the facility where your spouse is housed. You must include a proof of service form and self-addressed stamped envelope. The litigation coordinator logs in your documents and gives them to your spouse’s correctional counselor who gives them to your spouse.

Proof of Service

You must be able to prove to the court that your spouse was served with the papers. When the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation returns the proof of service you included, you must file that proof with the court so the court knows your spouse is aware of the divorce case. Your spouse may or may not file further documents with the court, but the court can still issue decisions about the divorce once it knows your spouse has received the required notice.