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Starting a Divorce Case

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In general, this is how a divorce, dissolution of registered domestic partnership, legal separation, or annulment case starts:

 

1.  The person starting the court case (petitioner) gets and completes all the appropriate forms.

 
  • The forms can be found on this website, at most courthouses, in public libraries, and in other places.
  • Sometimes it helps people to get a friend to read the papers and work with them as they try to understand what is being asked on the forms.
 

2.  The petitioner calls the closest courthouse to ask three questions.

 
  1. Is this the courthouse where this case should be filed? If not, where should I file?
  2. After I have filled out the forms, how many photocopies of these forms will I need to make for filing?
  3. How much money it will cost to file the forms, and how can I pay the fees?

3.  The petitioner files his or her court forms.

  • "Filing the forms" means taking the forms to the courthouse and giving them to a court clerk. The clerk will put the original forms in a file that starts the court case, then stamp the photocopies and return them to the person doing the filing.

Note:  It costs money to file the forms.

4.  A person over 18 who is not connected to the court case gives the other spouse or partner (the respondent) copies of the court forms.

  • When a lawsuit is filed, the person being sued has a right to be told about it. This needs to be done in time for the person to go to court and tell the judge his or her side of the story before the judge makes a decision. This is called "service of process" and is very important.

5.  The person who serves copies of the court forms on the respondent fills and files a form to show they have given the correct forms to the respondent in the right way.

6.  The respondent gets the forms he or she needs and fills them in.

7.  The respondent files his or her court forms. 

 

SPECIAL NOTE:  The respondent only has 30 days to file his or her court forms. If  the respondent does not file a response, the judge can make a decision ending the marriage or dissolving the registered domestic partnership without hearing the respondent's side of the story. 

 

8.  A person over 18 who is not connected to the court case gives the petitioner copies of the respondent's court forms.

9.  The person who serves copies of the court forms to the petitioner fills and files a form to show they have given him or her the correct forms in the right way.

 

Special information on what the petitioner and respondent must do at the start of a court case:


To view some short videos with general information about how California's court system works, click here. Opens new window



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