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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Divorce > The California Divorce Process: Step by Step

The California Divorce Process: Step by Step


Few couples would ever marry if they foresaw a divorce in their future. However, life is what happens when we are out making other plans. Whether you are considering a divorce and pursuit of a new life, or you have been blindsided by your spouse requesting a divorce, staring down the process can be overwhelming. You know your life is going to change, you may have minor children to think about, and you probably do not understand everything that you need to do to complete the process. Particularly since it is nothing you ever foresaw for yourself or for your family.

While there can be a lot to process in the course of a divorce, it is important for yourself and your family that you protect yourself as you move forward. An experienced divorce and child custody attorney can help you ensure that you are taking appropriate steps forward from day one. Every situation is different and will require tailored advice. This article seeks to generally inform readers of the steps and phases they can expect as they pursue a California divorce.

The Beginning

If you are considering a divorce or just informed that you will be involved in one, it is wise to retain legal counsel right away. It is also important that you:

  • Make copies of key documents – get your financial information in order. This includes collecting tax information, pay stub/salary records, insurance policies. Also take the time to secure important sentimental items such as photographs. These documents will help you lay a foundation for determining fair division of assets, and can help in avoiding fights or confusion with property division.
  • Secure your things – This is especially important for key items such as your social security card and birth certificate. Potentially, you have nothing but a peaceful divorce. However, it is better to put these important items in a safe and secure location in case the unexpected happens. If nothing else, the items could become lost in the shuffle of divorce.
  • Change your passwords – protect your privacy and autonomy by changing passwords to your accounts for banking, social media, phone, e-mail, etc.
  • Secure your finances – it is wise to obtain an updated credit score, confirm how much debt you might have, and open a separate bank account in your own name.
  • Inventory – inventory your household items.
  • Tell Your Spouse and Children – These conversations can be extremely difficult. If you believe your spouse may become angry, you should not hesitate to seek professional help. Therapy benefits everyone in a divorce. Consult emergency services immediately if the need arises.


The first step a divorcing couple must take is to file for divorce in the appropriate county. In order to file for divorce in a particular county, you (and if appropriate, your children) must have established residency there. In California, to meet the residency requirements you must be a resident of the county in which you’re filing for at least three months, and a resident of California for at least six months immediately prior to the divorce filing.

Once served, the other spouse has 30 days to complete their own set of papers in response. If you fail to respond, the court can enter a default judgment against you. A person who simply ignores being served divorce papers is not refusing to get divorced – they are simply allowing the court and their soon-to-be-ex-spouse to make many the decisions for them. Those decisions can be very difficult to undo.


Each party is required by law to disclose to one another complete and accurate income, expense, asset and debt information. This is done through the parties initial disclosures and final disclosures at the end of the dissolution. Information concerning income, expenses and the extent of the marital estate can also be shared between the parties through the discovery process or through voluntarily providing needed information, also known as “informal discovery.”

Property Valuation and Settlement

All marital property will thereafter be assessed and divided in accordance with California law. Generally speaking, California is a community property state and any asset or debt acquired during the course of the marriage is subject to equal division. However, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can supersede these terms.

A settlement conference is sometimes held to negotiate a settlement. After that, any lingering issues that cannot be settled can be set for trial. Family law trials in California are bench trials – meaning that the judge hears and decides the case, not a selected number of jurors.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

Every divorce is different and requires a tailored strategy. Contact the San Francisco divorce lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young to begin working with our team today.




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