What to Know About Divorce in California: Your 2023 Guide

Divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, is a legal process that terminates a marriage and addresses issues such as division of property, child custody and support, and alimony. In California, divorce laws are designed to ensure a fair and equitable resolution for both parties involved.

Understanding these laws and the steps involved in the divorce process is crucial for anyone seeking to end their marriage in California. This article will act as a guide to provide you with the information you need to know about divorce in California.

Grounds for Divorce in California

California is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning neither spouse must prove fault or wrongdoing to obtain a divorce. The only requirement for filing for divorce is citing irreconcilable differences, which have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage. This implies that the marriage cannot be salvaged, and both parties agree to end it.

The only other grounds for divorce in California is if one spouse is permanently and legally incapable of making decisions. This must be determined through psychiatric testimony or the testimony of a medical expert.

Residency Requirements

Before filing for divorce in California, meeting the state’s residency requirements is essential. Either spouse must have been a resident of California for at least six months and a resident of the county where they plan to file for divorce for at least three months.

The Divorce Process in California

Step 1 — Preparing the Forms

The divorce process starts by completing and filing the necessary forms. These typically include the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Summons, and other required documents, which you can obtain from the county courthouse or online through the California Courts website.

Step 2 — Service of Process

After completing the forms, the petitioner (the spouse initiating the divorce) must serve the documents to the other spouse. This can be done through personal service by a third party or via certified mail.

Step 3 — Response from the Other Spouse

The respondent (the other spouse) has 30 days after being served to file a response. If the respondent fails to respond within this timeframe, the petitioner can proceed with the divorce as an uncontested case.

Step 4 — Disclosure of Assets and Debts

Both parties must disclose their assets, debts, income, and expenses. This is crucial for the fair division of property and determining issues related to spousal and child support.

Step 5 — Negotiation and Settlement

Often, divorcing couples opt for negotiation or mediation to reach a settlement regarding property division, child custody, visitation rights, and support. If an agreement is reached, it must be submitted to the court for approval.

You may qualify for a summary dissolution for California if you’ve been married five years or less, have no children, and have little marital property and liabilities.


You can save time and money when you and your spouse can resolve issues without involving the court. This can be accomplished by using mediation using an unbiased mediator.

Ideally, after mediation, the couple will walk away with a signed agreement on the terms of their divorce, avoiding a trial. A mediator can help streamline an eventual trial even if litigation is still needed.

Step 6 — Court Trial

In cases where agreements cannot be reached, a court trial may be necessary. Both parties present their arguments during the trial, and the judge makes decisions regarding unresolved issues.

Step 7 — Final Judgment

Once all matters are resolved, the court issues a final judgment of dissolution of marriage. This judgment includes the divorce terms, such as property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. It’s important to remember that there is a six-month waiting period after the dissolution is filed before it can be finalized.

Issues to Be Determined During a Divorce

There are many issues that must be determined during the divorce. Here are some of the issues that will be addressed.

Child Custody

California courts prioritize the child’s best interests when determining custody and visitation. The courts will rule on the following:

  • Physical custody of the child, meaning who they live with most of the time, and the parenting time for the other parent.
  • Legal custody refers to who makes important decisions for the child. Typically, both parents will retain joint custody. Mediation generally is a requirement in California before any court order is made.

If both parties can agree to a parenting plan, the judge will typically approve their plan. However, the judge will make all decisions about child custody if disagreements arise.

Child Support

Child support is money paid to the custodial parent from the non-custodial parent to help cover the child’s expenses. Each parent is equally responsible for providing for their child financially.

Child support in California is calculated based on state guidelines, considering factors such as each parent’s income and the child’s needs. Like child custody, if the parents can provide fair terms of child support, the judge will likely approve their agreement but will step in to decide if the parents can’t agree.

Property Division

California is a community property state, meaning marital property is typically divided equally between spouses. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 split; instead, it aims for a fair and equitable distribution.

Community property is anything that has been accrued during their marriage or anything that has been bought with marital funds. Nonmarital separate property can include an inheritance or gifts received during the marriage.

Marital property doesn’t only include assets such as retirement accounts and investments. It also includes debts like mortgage loans and student loan debt acquired during the marriage.

Spousal Support

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is when the court orders one party to pay the other party financial support after the divorce is finalized. Alimony may be awarded based on factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s earning capacity, and their standard of living during the marriage.

Factors such as contributions from one spouse to the other for career building or education, a history of domestic violence, and other factors can impact alimony. Temporary spousal support is also available to ensure financial stability after a couple has begun the divorce process.

Turn to The Gorski Firm for Expert Representation During Your Divorce

Navigating the divorce process in California can be complex and emotionally challenging. Seeking legal counsel and guidance from a qualified attorney experienced in family law is highly recommended to ensure your rights are protected and facilitate a smoother resolution.

Understanding the laws and procedures involved in obtaining a divorce in California is crucial for a successful and fair resolution. With the proper knowledge and legal support, individuals can navigate this challenging period and move forward with their lives.

At The Gorski Firm, we were founded on the core values of reliability, integrity, respect, trust, and loyalty. We are dedicated to exceeding our clients’ expectations and providing cost-effective, high-quality counsel to them during the divorce process. We aim to minimize conflict during family law cases with professional conduct and an aggressive yet considerate courtroom posture.

Contact us today for a consultation.

Written by Vincent A. Gorski

Vincent Gorski is a Bakersfield California Family Law and Bankruptcy lawyer. He is certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization in both Family Law and Bankruptcy. He is the founder of The Gorski Firm and assists clients in complex and routine family law and bankruptcy issues. He was licensed to practice in Indiana in 2007 and California in 2009. He regularly writes on topics related to Bankruptcy and Family Law issues (divorce, custody, visitation, support, property division, etc.)

October 30, 2023

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