Legal Steps for a Divorce or Legal Separation
- The petitioner (the person who files the first divorce or legal separation forms with the court) fills out and files at least the following:
- Click if you are in a same sex marraige or are registered domestic partners.
- The forms needed to start your case and information about filing fees and fee waivers are available at “Filing Your Case."
- The court clerk will stamp and return copies of the filed forms to the petitioner.
- Someone 18 or older – not the petitioner – serves the other spouse (called the respondent), with all the forms from Step 1 plus a blank Response – Marriage (Form FL-120) and files with the court a proof of service form, such as Proof of Service of Summons (Form FL-115), telling when and how the respondent was served. (To serve means “to give in the proper legal way.”) For more information, see “Serve Your First Set of Court Forms.”
- The respondent has 30 days to file and serve a Response. Therefore, petitioner must wait 30 days before starting Step 4.
- At the same time as Step 1 or within 60 days of filing the Petition, petitioner must fill out and have these documents served on the respondent: Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140), Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150), Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142), or Property Declaration (Form FL-160), and all tax returns filed by the party in the 2 years before serving the disclosure documents. These disclosure documents must not be filed with the court.
- If the respondent files a Response, he or she must also complete and serve the same disclosure documents on the petitioner within 60 days of filing the Response.
- The 60-day time frame for serving the disclosures may be changed by written agreement between the parties or by court order.
- The petitioner and the respondent each file a Declaration Regarding Service (Form FL-141) with the court saying disclosures were served. If respondent does not serve disclosures, petitioner can still finish the case without them. For more information, see “Fill Out Your Financial Declaration of Disclosure Forms.”
Step 4. Finish the Divorce or Legal Separation Case in One of Four Ways
- The earliest you can be divorced is six months and one day from the date the respondent (1) was served with the summons and petition, (2) filed a Response, or (3) filed an Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (Form FL-130). Legal separation has no waiting period. You MUST complete Step 4 for both types of cases. You are NOT divorced or legally separated until the court enters a Judgment in your case.
- If you need court orders for child support, custody, parenting time (visitation), spousal or partner support, restraining orders, or other issues before the case is final, you can file a Request for Order (Form FL-300) asking for temporary orders. See “Request for Order Information” for more information.
- After you file your first paper with the court, you must keep the court and the other party informed of any change in your mailing address or other contact information. To comply, you may file and have a Notice of Change of Address or Other Contact information (Form MC-040) served on the other party or his or her attorney.
Do you have a same-sex marriage or a registered domestic partnership?
The process for a divorce or legal separation of a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership, or both is the same as the Steps 1 through 4 above, except that the petitioner files Form FL-103 to start the case, instead of FL-100. The petitioner must also serve the responent with a blank Form FL-123, instead of a blank FL-120. (Note: a petitioner seeking a divorce or legal separation of only a same-sex marriage may file Form FL-100 to start the case, if he or she meets the residency requirements listed on that form). There may also be differences in taxes and other issues for same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships. For more information, see "Filing Your Case" and click on the topic that describes your situation.
What if you want a legal separation?
The process in Steps 1 through 4 above is the same, except you will NOT get a Judgment for legal separation unless both parties agree to a legal separation OR if the respondent has not filed a Response. If both parties agree to be legally separated but do not agree on other issues, the parties must go to trial to have a judge resolve those issues. You are NOT legally separated until you receive a Judgment signed by the court. For more information, see "Legal Separation." AFTER the court enters a judgment for legal separation, if you decide you want a divorce, you must start a new case to request a divorce and pay another filing fee.