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The 10 Steps In An Uncontested Divorce


An overview of the ten steps required to obtain an uncontested divorce in the state of California.

Step 1. The Petitioner, or person who will be filing the divorce court case, decides:

  • How do I want to legally end this relationship?
    The choices are:
    • Divorce
    • Legal separation
    • Annulment
  • If choosing a divorce, do I qualify for a summary dissolution?
    Click here to find out
  • Can I file in California? If yes, what county or counties can I file in?
    Click here to find out
  • What are the special divorce procedures in my local court in my county? What local forms and how many copies do I need?
    Click here to find out

Step 2. Am I able to communicate with my spouse to try and figure out an agreement about the terms of our divorce or legal separation?

  • If we can, we may save on filing fees and time by having to go to court less
  • We can work out our disagreements with a mediator instead of a judge

Step 3. The petitioner (the person who will file) completes all the required forms

Step 4. The Petitioner files their court forms

  • This means taking the forms to the courthouse and giving them to a court clerk who will then put the forms in a file that will begin the case. They will then stamp the photocopies as ‘filed’
  • There is a filing fee to file the court forms
  • If you cannot afford the fees, you can apply for a fee waiver

Step 5. A legal adult (18 and older) who is not involved in the case, serves the respondent, or other spouse, copies of the court forms.

  • This is because when a lawsuit is filed the person being sued (the respondent) has a right to be notified about it.
  • This is called “service of process” and needs to be done with enough time for the respondent to go to court to tell the judge their side of the story before they make a decision.
  • The person who served the copies to the respondent must fill out a form called “proof of service” that shows they have given the correct forms to the respondent in the correct way
  • The petitioner will then file the proof of service form with the court clerk


Step 6. The respondent decides how they would like to handle the divorce case

  • The respondent will decide if they would want to file a response with the court. If they do not, then the judge will decide how to end the marriage without hearing the respondent's side.
  • Or, they can try to work out an agreement with the petitioner about the terms of the divorce. If there is domestic violence in the relationship please proceed differently*

Step 7. If the respondent chooses to file a response they need to complete the proper forms, and then file them with the court clerk.

  • They will have 30 days to file their court divorce forms after being served the petitioner’s paperwork
  • The respondent will file the papers at court and will have to pay the filing fee

Step 8. A legal adult (18 and older) who is not involved in the case, serves the petitioner a copy of the respondent’s court forms

  • The person who served the court divorce forms will fill out a “proof of service” to show they have given the correct forms in the right way.
  • The respondent will file that proof of service form with the court clerk

Step 9. Each side will exchange financial documents that declare what they own and owe. This process is called “preliminary declaration of disclosure”

  • This disclosure will help both parties involved in the divorce divide their property and debt

Step 10. The court approves and signs a judgment to let a couple become divorced or legally separated. The terms of the divorce is part of the judgment and is dependent on whether the respondent filed a response or whether the couple can reach a mutual agreement about the terms.

  • You cannot legally end your marital status until at least six months after the case is filed and the respondent is served with a copy of the petitioner’s paperwork
  • The divorce will not become final on its own. One or both sides will have to file more paperwork before that happens. Please follow all the steps to make sure your divorce is finalized.
  • If the couple can reach an agreement about all their issues, then they may not need to go in front of a judge
  • If they cannot reach an agreement, they must go to court to come to an agreement about their issues

Step 11. Read "It Doesn't Have To Be That Way: How To Divorce Without Destroying Your Family Or Bankrupting Yourself" by it's over easy founder #LauraWasser - you'll laugh at the funny things she writes and you'll be better prepared for what's ahead of you as you navigate your divorce online.