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Start Here: Learn About Your Divorce Options

Going through a divorce or separation is a major life transition with emotional, financial, and legal challenges. Educate yourself, talk to your spouse/partner, and explore your options for a divorce that aligns with your highest priorities, circumstance, and budget.

The State of California has an excellent website (www.ca.courts.gov) that explains the divorce process and provides forms you can fill out online and file with the court yourself. Your county courthouse may also have a Family Law Facilitator or Self-Help Center that offers no-cost assistance. Nolo Press (www.nolo.com) is another great resource for a do-it-yourself divorce.
An LDP or paralegal cannot give you legal advice, but can prepare your divorce paperwork and settlement agreement at a reasonable cost if your case is uncontested (you and your spouse have an agreement on all issues) or your case is proceeding by default (your spouse is not participating but does not contest your request).
  • Paperwork Assistance: An attorney can draft the paperwork and guide you through a divorce where there is an agreement on all issues. Assistance can be provided to one party or to both parties as requested.
  • Independent Consulting: If you are in mediation, you can hire a non-adversarial attorney to provide legal advice and help you make an informed decision during negotiations or to review a final settlement.
  • Advice and Counsel/Cooperative Settlement: A non-adversarial attorney can advise you or negotiate directly on your behalf, with your spouse or his/her attorney in an effort to reach an out-of-court settlement that is mutually acceptable.

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Hire a family law mediator to work with you and your spouse as a neutral third party, to facilitate communication and understanding, with the goal of finding a resolution that is satisfactory to you both.

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Pledge to stay out of court and cooperate with your spouse to find the most holistic and mutually agreeable outcome possible. Utilize specially trained professionals in their respective area of expertise to collaboratively address the legal, financial, emotional, and parenting aspects of your divorce.

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Hire an attorney to represent you in a court-based divorce to pursue your most favorable outcome based on what the law provides. A good attorney will try and negotiate a mutually beneficial settlement. However, if attempts at settlement fail, court motions will be filed and a judge will decide the outcome on some, or all, issues.

How do I choose?


The process you choose will depend on what your spouse agrees to, how much help you both need, and what you can afford. Consider what your priorities are now, and what they will be in the future, and let those priorities help to determine where to devote your resources.

  • You and your spouse are committed to staying out of court and want to work together in a respectful manner to seek a mutually acceptable resolution.
  • You want to prioritize your respective needs and goals over what the law determines is in your best interest.
  • You want a holistic process, where specially trained professionals work together in a transparent manner, and in their respective area of expertise, to address the legal, emotional, financial, and parenting issues in your case.
  • You want your own attorney- an ally to guide and support you while helping you navigate the process.
  • You want a healthy and cooperative post-divorce relationship, especially because you intend to co-parent.
  • You want a confidential, voluntary and private process where you and your spouse choose the outcome.
  • You and your spouse want to stay out of court and are willing to work together in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
  • You want to find creative solutions based on what is important to each of you, and not agree to something out of anger, exhaustion, fear, or to “buy” peace.
  • You want the assistance of a neutral third party, who can help you communicate and negotiate in a respectful, cooperative fashion.
  • You want a confidential, voluntary and private process where you and your spouse choose the outcome.
  • You want an experienced attorney/mediator to prepare and file the paperwork.
  • You are in mediation and need legal advice to help you make an informed decision during negotiations or to review a final settlement. (Independent Consulting Attorney).
  • You want the help of an attorney to draft the paperwork and guide you through a divorce where there is an agreement on all issues. (Divorce Paperwork Assistance).
  • You are handling your own divorce and want legal advice and/or help negotiating a settlement with your spouse or his/her attorney (Advice and Counsel).
  • You have little, if any issues to resolve.
  • You have the time and patience to learn how to fill out the forms and understand the process.
  • You can’t afford any other options.
  • You want assistance with preparing all the paperwork for an uncontested divorce (one where there is an agreement on all issues).
  • You have very limited financial resources.
  • Staying out of court is not an option. You may need to hire a litigator if your spouse won’t cooperate; or if there is high conflict, serious substance abuse or mental health issues, or intimate partner abuse.

What Should I Expect When Going Through a Divorce?

What to expect from the legal system:

Divorce is a major life transition that will impact you legally, emotionally, financially, and logistically. It is considered the “second” most stressful life event you may ever go through.

While each divorce is unique, all California divorce actions require some version of the following steps:

  • File: Initiate the legal proceedings by filing a Petition at your local county courthouse.
  • Serve: Have someone give (“serve”) your spouse/partner the Petition. Your spouse may file a formal Response, even if your case is amicable.
  • Disclose: Exchange financial information (income, expenses, assets, and debts) with your spouse/partner.
  • Decide: Make decisions with your spouse (settlement agreement), or have a judge decide how to resolve the relevant legal issues in your case (custody, support, division of community property, etc).
  • Judgment: When all legal issues in your divorce are approved, you will be granted a Judgment of Dissolution (marriage or domestic partnership), restoring you to the legal status of “single.”

In addition to the paperwork described above, your divorce settlement must address and resolve the following issues:

  • Parenting/Child Support: If you have children who are under the age of 18 with your spouse/partner, you will need a parenting plan (child custody and visitation) and a child support provision (even if the amount is $0).
  • Property: If you are ending your marriage with assets and/or obligations, you will need to confirm your respective separate property (what you had prior to marriage or received by gift or inheritance), and how to allocate community property assets and obligations (earned or incurred during the marriage). This includes real property (family residence), mortgages, investments, credit card debt, retirement benefits, business interests, etc.
  • Spousal Support: Your judgment must address the issue of spousal support, no matter how long you have been married, even if the amount is $0.

There are two time frames to consider in your divorce process: the time it takes to conclude the terms of your divorce, either by agreement or a judge’s decision, and the six-month waiting period.

Settling your case: The amount of time it takes to settle your case will depend on how much conflict there is between you and your spouse, how many issues you have to resolve, and what type of process you choose. It can take several weeks or several years, though many non-adversarial, out-of-court cases can be resolved in a matter of months.

The six-month waiting period: The six-month waiting period starts when your spouse receives the initial divorce paperwork, not when you file the papers or move out. This does not mean you have six months to resolve your case. It also does not mean you will be divorced in six months. It simply means your marriage/domestic partnership cannot be “dissolved” until the six-month waiting period has passed. In other words, until you are divorced, you are still married.