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Divorce, Legal Separation, & Annullment (Dissolution)


how the divorce process works

Step 1: Choose the Proper Court

You will begin by answering a series of questions to make sure that the State of California has “jurisdiction” over the parties and issues in your case, that the case is filed in the proper county.

Step 2: File the Initial Document Package

You will begin by answering a series of questions to make sure that the State of California has “jurisdiction” over the parties and issues in your case, that the case is filed in the proper county.

Step 3: Serve the Initial Documents

After the documents have been filed with the court, they must be properly served on your spouse. There are two ways to meet these “due process” requirements. Either your spouse can choose to accept service by signing an Acknowledgement of Service or he/she must be formally served with the documents.


Step 4: Entry of Default (If No Response Filed)

If your spouse has either signed an Acknowledgment of Receipt or has been formally served with the Summons and Petition and has failed to respond within 30 days, he/she is “in default” and his/her default may, on your application, be entered by the court clerk. Once the default has been entered, the Respondent will be foreclosed from responding or appearing in the case unless he/she is able to successfully move to have the default vacated.


Step 5: Financial Disclosure

It is the policy of the State of California to ensure a proper division of community property and to further insure that child and spousal support awards will be fair and equitable. To this end, California Family Code Section § 2100 et seq. mandates the exchange of prescribed “preliminary” and “final” declarations of disclosure, along with current income and expense declarations, in all marriage dissolution, legal separation and nullity actions. We’ll prepare the financial disclosures for you based on the information you provide to us in our simple workbooks.


Step 6: Prepare And Notarize A Marital Settlement Agreement

If we have served the Respondent with the Summons and Petition and he/she has defaulted (failed to file a Response) and your case is not going to settle by way of an agreement, you will skip this step and move to Step 8. However, if you and your spouse are going to settle the case by way of agreement, we will prepare an agreement which resolves all of the issues in your case. Generally, these issues include:

    • Child Custody
    • Child Support
    • Child Visitation
    • Spousal Support
    • Division of Community Property
    • Division of Community Property Debts

Step 7: Prepare Order To Withold Income For Child Support

Whenever a support order is made or modified, the court must include in the order an Order/Notice to Withhold Income For Child Support that directs the paying spouse’s employer to pay to the party receiving support that portion of the paying spouse’s earnings due or to become due as will be sufficient to pay (a) the support amount ordered by the court, and (b) an amount ordered to be paid toward liquidation of any arrearage.

Step 8: Prepare And File The “Judgment Package”

The end result and the final goal of the action for dissolution or marriage, legal separation, or nullity is to obtain a Judgment from the court. The Divorce Judgment dissolves the marriage and is a court order which resolves the issues between the parties such as child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, debt division, and the payment of attorney fees and costs. Whether you obtain that judgment with the agreement of the other party or after the other party’s default or after hearing of the matter at trial, a proposed “Judgment package” of documents must be prepared for submission to the court.

Step 9: Serve The Judgment

Where there are orders in the Judgment enforceable by contempt (such as child & spousal support orders or restraining orders) it is important that a conformed copy of the Judgment be personally served on your spouse and that you obtain a proof of service of the Judgment. Failure to properly serve notice of any order enforceable by contempt on the other party may make it impossible for you to bring a contempt action later to enforce it.

Download our guide to Mandatory and Optional Forms For Dissolution for a comprehensive list of forms and instructions.


This guide is supposed to give you enough information so that you can represent yourself. It is NOT designed to give you legal advice and DOES NOT take the place of speaking with a lawyer.

Important Facts

  • You will not be divorced, legally separated, or granted an annulment just by filling out the forms, serving your spouse, and waiting.
  • After your spouse has been served, there are more forms that need to be filled out.
  • You are in charge of finishing all the steps in this process. The last step requires you to prepare a judgment for the court to sign.
  • The judgment must be filed with the court and signed by a judge for your case to be finished and for you to be given the status of an unmarried person, legally separated, or for your marriage to be annulled.

Process Checklist

Download our checklist to make sure you complete the process correctly.


Step-By-Step Guide


This section contains an overview of key forms needed to start a divorce, legal separation, or annulment.

For a full list of forms and instructions, download our MANDATORY AND OPTIONAL FORMS FOR A DISSOLUTION guide.

You can find the forms that you will need to complete:

  • In Room 426 of the Stanley Mosk Los Angeles Superior Court (you will have to pay a fee for the forms).
  • OR on the internet at https://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.html. Please note: Forms from the internet can be printed but cannot be saved.

Important notes:

  • If you decide to use the optional forms, the list below shows where the optional form should be inserted in the mandatory forms. For easy reference, the optional form is in BOLD.
  • You will need to serve a copy of all documents that YOU file on the other party.
  • If you choose to use the optional form, you must have two. One is for you to complete, and the other is left blank and included in the “service package,” the blank documents (items 6, 7, 8 below that you serve on the other party. Leave the forms in the same order as listed below.

List of mandatory and optional forms for a Dissolution:

  1. FL-100 Petition for Dissolution, Legal Separation, or Nullity of Marriage
  2. FL-160 Property Declaration-Optional 
  3. FL-110 Summons
  4. FAM020 Family Law Case Cover Sheet 
  5. FL-115 Proof of Service of Summons

You must also include the following blank forms in the packet that you serve on the other party:

  1. FL-120 Response-Marriage
  2. FL-160 Property Declaration-Optional
  3. FL-335 Proof of Service by Mail


Key legal terms

  • Petitioner: You
  • Respondent: Your spouse

The forms may be typed or filled in neatly and in CAPITAL LETTERS using black ink.

Make 2 COPIES OF ALL COMPLETED FORMS and arrange them in the order found on the list.

    Court Costs

    You will need to pay a $435.00 filing fee when you file your forms at the courthouse unless you qualify for a “Fee Waiver.”

    • If you are unable to pay the $435.00 filing fee, applications for a “Fee Waiver” are available in the Family Law Information Center, the Filing Clerk’s Office, or on the internet.


    Once you have completed your forms:

    • Take the original and 2 copies of all the completed forms to the Clerk in Room 426 (4th Floor of the Los Angeles Superior Court).
    • The Clerk keeps the original and returns the 2 copies to you, after they have been stamped with the case number and the date that it was filed.
      • These stamped and dated forms are now called “conformed forms.”
    • The Clerk will also give you 2 copies of the Notice of Case Assignment. This tells you what courtroom and judge will hear your case.
      1 copy is for YOU.
      • 1 copy is for your SPOUSE.

    Service Package

     After you have filed the original forms with the Clerk and received your 2 stamped copies, you must give your spouse a “service package.”

    The service package must have:

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    Provide one conformed copy (stamped and dated by the court) of forms:

    • FL-100 Petition (including the optional form if used)
    • FL-110 Summons
    • FAM-020 Family Law Case Cover Sheet
    • Notice of Case Assignment
    • FL-105 Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and
      Enforcement Act
    • FL-105(A) Continuation of Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody
    • Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (if there are more than two children of the relationship)
      UCF-001 Notice of Other Cases Involving Minor Children (if you completed it)

    Provide one blank copy of forms:


    • FL-120 Response (including the optional form if used)
    • FL-105 Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and
      Enforcement Act
    • FL-105(A) Continuation of Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody
      Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (if there are more than two children of the relationship)
    • FL-335 Proof of Service by Mail

    Serving Your Spouse (Respondent)

    Your spouse must be served with the “service package.” There are many ways to serve your spouse, but the most common way is by PERSONAL SERVICE.

    If your spouse lives in California, they must be personally served, or served by  “NOTICE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF RECEIPT.”

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    • Any adult over the age of 18 (EXCEPT YOU) may give the service package to the Respondent (your spouse) in person.
    • If your spouse is in jail or prison in California, contact that facility and ask them how you can personally serve your spouse.
    • For about $30, the Sheriff’s Department can give the service package to the Respondent (your spouse).
      • The Sheriffs’ Office is on the 5th Floor of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
      • If you cannot afford the $30 fee, fill out a “Fee Waiver” form and take it to the Sheriff’s Department.
      • ONLY serve your spouse this way if you are sure that they will cooperate and sign the form. IF YOU ARE NOT SURE YOUR SPOUSE WILL COOPERATE, DO NOT USE THIS METHOD.
      • The Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt can be mailed to your spouse by an adult (NOT YOU).
        It must include a stamped envelope with your address, or the address of the adult who mailed the forms, written on the front.
      • The “service package” can be mailed to your spouse by an adult (NOT YOU) using registered or certified mail with return receipt requested.

    After Serving Your Spouse (Respondent)

    The adult who served your spouse (NOT YOU) must fill out a PROOF OF SERVICE OF SUMMONS (Form FL-115).

    • The adult must check off all the forms that were in the service package (including blank forms), as well as the date, time, and place of service.
    • The adult must also write in their address, print their name, and sign the bottom of the form.
    • Take the original form and the copy to the Clerk in Room 208 of the Los Angeles Superior Court for them to file.
    • ALSO TAKE the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt (if you used Notice and Acknowledgment of receipt to serve your spouse) or the Return Receipt (if you used certified mail to serve your spouse).

    When Is Your Case Finished?

    Your case is not finished until you receive a conformed copy of the “Notice of Entry of Judgment” from the court.

    • If you are filing for a divorce: This tells you when the judgment was filed and signed by the court, and when you became unmarried.
    • If you are filing for a legal separation of annulment: This tells you when the judgment was entered, and your case was finished.


    Find answers to frequently asked questions about Dissolution Of Marriage. If you have more questions, contact Los Angeles Family Law Center today.

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    You can turn in the papers for getting your Judgment 31 days after your spouse has been served. As soon as your Judgment is entered by the Court (signed by the Judge), all orders are effective, but your marriage is not finally dissolved until six months after notice was served on your spouse.

    It is still community property and it stays that way until it is formally divided by the Court. Even if it has already been divided by agreement of the parties and physically transferred, both parties own it as tenants in common until changed by Court order. This is also true of community debts.

    Reconciliation is a state of mind that goes beyond dating or occasionally sleeping together. But, what do you do about the dissolution if you are certain you no longer want a divorce? If no Response has been filed and no Judgment has been obtained, the case can be dismissed and Petitioner alone can file a Dismissal form. If there’s been a Response, both parties must sign the Dismissal.

    You can’t remarry until the Judgment has been entered and the date specified on it for termination of your marriage has passed, at least six months after the date the Summons was served on your spouse.

    Resident aliens who are divorced after less than two years of marriage are in danger of losing their resident status and they and their dependent children may be in danger of deportation. There will, however, be no prejudice to status if the divorce was caused by child or spouse abuse. If there’s a recent green card in your case, you should consult with an immigration attorney.

    If you get a legal separation Judgment and later want to be divorced, you have to start from scratch and file a new case. It should be smooth and easy since all issues were previously decided in the legal separation case.

    If one spouse is considering bankruptcy with large amounts of community debt, the other spouse will be affected. Therefore, your spouse should be notified and given the opportunity to join.

    The date you and/or your spouse decided you didn’t want to be husband and wife. Even if you continue to live together you can consider yourselves separated.

    Income, accumulations and debts of either spouse that are acquired after the date of separation are their own separate property, whether or not a divorce action has been filed. You are responsible for all community debts incurred by either spouse between the marriage and separation. Debts from before marriage or after separation are separate property (and responsibility) of whoever incurred them.

    You can be responsible after separation for accounts that are in both of your names or in the name of either spouse with merchants who are accustomed to dealing with you as a couple and have not been notified that you are separated and want your name removed from the account. Give these creditors notice in writing.

    You will always be liable for any debt for which you were originally liable when it was incurred. If your spouse is ordered by the Court to pay a specific debt and your spouse fails to pay it, the creditor can come after you or repossess the property.

    A Declaration of Disclosure lists full and accurate information about your property, debts, income and expenses to the other party. Spouses must always be completely open and honest in their dealings with each other. Within 60 days of serving the Petition, each spouse must serve on the other (by mail is easiest) a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. It lists all assets and debts, in which the spouse has an interest, along with a completed income and expense declaration. At or before the time you enter into any final agreement for support or the division of property, each spouse shall serve on the other spouse a Final Declaration of Disclosure. In other words, you are telling the court that you have complied with the disclosure law. In some counties, you and your spouse can waive the Final Declaration of Disclosure in your Marital Settlement Agreement.

    Child support: Either or both parties may be ordered to pay an amount reasonable and necessary for the support of any minor children of the marriage. The State of California has enacted child support guidelines which establish the presumptive correct amount of child support due. Deviation from the guidelines requires the court to state in writing why the application of the guidelines would be unreasonable or unjust, and:

    1. The amount of support that would have been ordered under the guidelines;
    2. The reasons for the deviation; and,
    3. The reasons the support ordered is in the best interests of the child. Child support is mandatory in all actions involving minor children. Petitioners with minor children must include an order for child support, even if the other parent is unemployed or cannot be found.

    Spousal support, as it is now commonly called, has in the past been known as “alimony”. Spousal support is not mandatory in most states. However, if the circumstances are such that a spouse will face hardships if he or she does not receive financial support after the divorce, then spousal support should be considered. The deciding factor regarding spousal support is the need to maintain the spouse at his or her customary standard of living. In other words, the law recognizes that a wife (or husband) should not be forced to live at a level below that enjoyed during the marriage. However, other factors also need to be considered. For example, spousal support should most likely not be considered if:

    1. The marriage was for a short duration (under two or three years), and both spouses are employed and self-sufficient.
    2. This does not mean that the parties cannot agree on spousal support, which the court is, more or less, bound to accept.
    3. Spousal support can run for an unlimited period, subject to the death or remarriage of the recipient spouse, or it can be fixed to terminate on a specific date.

    If your spouse can’t be located, you have to use a special method of service called Service by Publication. It requires three forms and a little more money, and there is an additional fee to We the People and you will need to complete an extra workbook, detailing the information outlined below, but it is not all that difficult. There is also a fee to the newspaper to publish notice of the summons. When you file your Application for Order of Publication, you must be able to prove to the court that you have exhausted all other means to locate and serve your spouse. You should do all the following steps:

    1. Keep copies of your letters and responses, and keep a diary of contacts.
    2. Try personal service. Use the Sheriff or a process server, as they can give you documentation of their inability to find your spouse.
    3. Try service by mail. Be sure to label the envelope “Return in 5 days if undeliverable.” Send it registered and keep returns to show failure.
    4. Contact all relatives and friends who might know spouse’s whereabouts.
    5. Contact spouse’s last known employer.
    6. If you receive welfare for children, contact the Department of Child Support Services to seek help in locating your spouse.
    7. Check the County Tax Assessor’s records (DMV and Registrar of Voters records are no longer available to the public.)

    If all this turns up nothing, you then petition the court for permission to publicize. Call the Clerk’s office to find out which local newspapers they use for publication, and then call the newspapers to find out how much they charge for Publication of Summons. It may seem silly to do the publication in your own town when you think your spouse lives in another town, or even another state, but that is how the law is written. Prepare the forms as shown here and file the original and 2 copies with the Clerk. When the judge signs your order, take the papers and your Summons to the newspaper you chose. The paper will publish the Summons once a week for four weeks, and then mail confirmation of publication to you. The effective date of service is seven days after the last date of publication. Wait 30 days after that, then file your Proof of Service, then proceed as shown in this guide.



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