Divorce Laws in California

Divorce can be stressful and emotional, so getting a better understanding of how divorce works in California can make it easier. Also known as “dissolution of marriage,” California’s divorce system is governed by state law.

IMPORTANT: Did you know you can divorce without a lawyer and save $20,000+? Learn more here.

If you’re still looking for information regarding California divorce lawyers, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of how divorce works in California.


In order to file for a divorce in California, either spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months before filing. Furthermore, the one filing for divorce must have lived in the country where they’re filing for at least three months.

These are known as residency requirements. If either spouse is eligible, they can file for a legal divorce in California. However, keep in mind that residency requirements can sometimes become complex, and filing for divorce is a long process. If you are unsure of your residency status or eligibility for filing for divorce in California you may want to consult a lawyer..

Conversely, if these residency requirements are unmet, you cannot file a dissolution of marriage. In this case, there are two options. Spouses can either file for a legal separation or wait until they have lived in California for long enough to establish residency.

Divorce grounds

California is known as a no-fault divorce state, meaning it doesn’t require legal reasons to file for divorce. You can get divorced without proving your spouse did something wrong, and the courts will not consider wrongdoing ruling on your divorce. Even if your spouse cheated on you, this won’t influence how a judge will decide on division of assets, child custody or spousal support.Most divorces in California are based on “irreconcilable differences” that cause a marriage breakdown and cannot be saved. A divorce may also be filed on the grounds that one spouse is legally incapable of making decisions.

The main way a fault-like issue will be considered by the court is when domestic violence has occurred. If someone has been convicted of domestic violence, it can mean they can’t receive spousal support and it is presumed they should not be awarded sole or joint custody. In ruling on custody the court will put the interests of the court first. 

Divorce lawyer explains divorce grounds under California law

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Property division

California state is a community property state. In other words, all property acquired during the marriage is considered equally owned by both spouses unless it was inherited or received as a gift by just one spouse.. This includes assets such as real estate, retirement accounts, bank accounts, as well as personal property.

The court will consider each spouse’s earnings as well as the length of the marriage when making a property division determination. Or the spouses can reach and agreement on their own and submit it to the court.

Child custody and support

When getting a divorce, California law encourages parents to create their own plan that outlines custody and support in the child’s best interest. The most common option is joint custody, which most California family courts encourage. 

There are times when joint custody is not in a child’s best interest, and a parenting plan cannot be arranged. In these situations, the court will grant sole custody to one parent. In this case the second parent will usually be granted visitation rights. These may be supervised or unsupervised.

Regarding child support, the state legislature has enacted specific calculations that must be used to determine the guideline amount. These calculations take into account things like parents’ incomes and how much time the children spend with each parent.

Child support is usually calculated using the DissoMaster software program, which is accepted by all California family courts. Couples must agree to at least the guideline child support amount, unless there are extenuating circumstances. In very rare cases the court will allow payment of below the guideline amount, but this generally requires a detailed motion to be filed by an attorney. In almost all cases the court requires the guideline amount to be paid, because this is in the best interest of the children.

California Lawyer filing for divorce

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Filing for divorce

Filing a divorce in California can be a long and complex process. However, it can be straightforward if you know what to expect and how to prepare. Here are the basic steps regarding filing for a divorce in California.

  1. Meet residency requirements
  2. The petitioner prepares and files the petition and serves a summons on the respondent. Respondent must respond within 30 days.
  3. Negotiate a settlement, including division of assets and debts, child custody and child and spousal support
  4. Prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement, judgment and other required court forms
  5. Submit forms to the court and wait for approval
  6. Your divorce is finalized the later of the following: a) the date the court approves your forms or b) six months from the date the summons is served on the respondent  

Divorce Without A Lawyer In California

Before exploring more standard divorce options, you may want to pursue a divorce without a lawyer in California through a platform like BlissDivorce which allows you to complete the entirety of the divorce process and form submission without attorneys, mediators, or DIY paperwork submissions. By using this seamless online service, you can save dozens or even hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars you’d normally forfeit. This can be beneficial both for the emotional and financial wellbeing of everyone involved.

Different Types of Divorce in California

Outside of pursuing a divorce without a lawyer in California, there are various divorce options are available, each with specific needs and procedures.

That’s why choosing the ideal type for your circumstances is essential. We’ve made this list to inform you about the differences between them so you can choose which one is best for your situation.

Different Types of Divorce in California discussed by a Lawyer

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Uncontested divorce

This type of divorce occurs when both parties agree on everything, including child custody, property division, and spousal support. In California, this is the simplest and most common procedure.

The uncontested divorce is the cheapest and quickest option to end a marriage. You submit your agreement for approval to the court without having to go to trial.

Uncontested divorce doesn’t mean you have no disagreements from the get go. It just means that you are able to work everything out without appearing in front of a judge.

Contested divorce

In contrast to an uncontested divorce, this type of procedure occurs when the spouses are unable to come to an agreement. This means that the whole situation becomes more complicated, time-consuming, and traumatic.

In a contested divorce, both sides usually hire an attorney. Each attorney represents just their client’s interests, which can escalate conflicts. The attorneys will try to get as much as they can for their clients, although they will usually try to settle things before the case goes to court.

If your case goes to court it will be very expensive. Your attorneys will charge you for time spent preparing and in court. In addition you may have to pay for expert witnesses or pre-trial consultants. If you do end up in court  having an experienced attorney on your side will be crucial.

Collaborative divorce

The option of a collaborative divorce is available for couples willing to come to agreements in a mature and respectful manner. Both parties will be armed with divorce attorneys to arrange a settlement that’s equally beneficial to them.

However, part of the deal is that those attorneys cannot present you in the litigation process if the collaborative divorce fails.

Once everything is settled and done, both spouses sign a participation agreement, and the lawyers draft a formal agreement.

Lawyer offering collaborative divorce services in California

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Legal separation

Legal separation is another alternative to divorce. This option can be used by couples who are unsure whether they want to finalize their marriage.

In this procedure, couples can resolve legal terms without getting a divorce.

The fundamental distinction between a divorce and a legal separation is that this option doesn’t result in the dissolution of the marriage. Although, if one spouse decides that they want a divorce, they must submit a separate petition for divorce to the court.

It’s good to note that a legal separation can also be a complex process. So it’s best to consult with a divorce lawyer California to help you navigate the process and protect your legal rights.

Summary dissolution

A summary dissolution is an uncontested no-fault divorce that applies to uncomplicated short marriages. In California, a couple can submit this type of divorce in order to shorten the process and avoid going to court. However, keep in mind that there are requirements you must meet:

  • The marriage cannot be longer than five years
  • You don’t have children
  • There must be less than $47,000 of joint assets
  • Each of yYou cannot have more than $47,000 in separate property
  • A couple cannot own real estate
  • Shared debt should be less than $6,000

Mediated divorce

During a mediation divorce process, a professional mediator is a neutral third party that helps the couple resolve and negotiate the legal terms regarding the separation.

This is a great option for spouses who are willing to cooperate to find a solution, and it can be a less expensive and stressful process.

Mediation divorce usually covers issues regarding the custody of a child and property division, as well as creating parenting plans and determining maintenance support. However, both parties must agree on the terms.

Divorce Rates of Lawyers in California

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Divorce Rates

Almost 50% of marriages in the US end in divorce. There is a common misconception that California divorce rates are higher than the national average. However, according to demographic data, the state of CA actually ranks lower than the nation as a whole.

  • Between the ages of 15-24, the average divorce rates for men are 3.8%, while for women, 5.8%
  • Between the ages of 25-34, the average divorce rates for men are 23.7%, while for women, 27.3%
  • Between the ages of 35-44, the average divorce rates for men are 29.4%, while for women, 30.1%
  • Between the ages of 45-54, the average divorce tares for men are 26%, while for women, 22.9%
  • Between the ages of 55-64, the average divorce rates for men are 12%, while for women, 9.8%
  • After the age of 65, the average divorce rates for men are 5.2%, while for women, 4.2%

Divorce Lawyers vs. Divorce Mediators

A divorce lawyer and a divorce mediator can both play important roles during the dissolution of a marriage but have quite different functions. When going through a divorce mediation, the process only requires one mediator, while for a divorce, two lawyers are needed.

A divorce attorney is a one-party legal professional representative in a divorce case. Their job is to advocate for the client and give them legal advice as well as steps throughout the process. In comparison, a mediator is a neutral third party who helps people come to an arrangement they feel is best for them and their children.

Hiring a lawyer can come at a hefty cost and can also take up to three years for the divorce compilation. On the other hand, divorce mediation is a roughly six-month process, but the duration is much more in the clients’ hands.

Courts will sometimes order a couple to go into mediation as a last ditch effort to reach and agreement before going to court. This is different than doing mediation on their own in that they both are usually also represented by an attorney.

Divorce Lawyers vs. Divorce Mediators in California

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Divorce Lawyer California

When searching for divorce lawyers, looking for someone with experience in family law is essential. Divorce attorneys in California are trained to handle complex negotiations and disputes, including property division, child support, custody, and spousal support.

Below are some of the best-trained divorce lawyers with the needed qualifications.

Patrice Hensley

Patrice Hensley is a divorce lawyer who has complete legal knowledge in family law that will help resolve any issue concerning your divorce. With great communication skills, she’s always available to her clients for any questions and is known to deliver excellent results.

Samantha M. Feak

Samantha M. Feak is experienced in divorce, family law, and domestic violence and is now provisionally licensed in California, Wisconsin. 

Gerald Maggio

Gerald Maggio presides in Southern California and has been practicing family law for more than 22 years. 

Walter Melcher

Walter Melcher is considered one of California’s premier family law attorneys and has published more than 100 books and articles in the space.

Michele Elizabeth Hales

Michele Elizabeth Hales has been representing clients with divorce and family law manners for over 30 years. She got her B.A. from the University of California Davis in 1989 and joined the State Bar of California after.

Divorce Mediator California

Before choosing a mediator, it’s best to make sure you find someone who is qualified and experienced in mediation law. It’s important to find someone with a strong family law background who is well-educated and experienced on the topic.

That’s why we want to offer you some professional mediators that will meet the qualifications you need. You can pick one of our trained mediators that best fit your specific situation.

Kimberly Sullivan

Kimberly Sullivan is a divorce attorney and mediator, passionate about her work and empowering both sides to find a joint solution. She has graduated from significant law universities and specializes in family, divorce, business, and workplace conflicts.

Talia Jaya Arica

Talia Jaya Arica is a South African professional mediator who will help you resolve any issues and come to a solution that will benefit both parties. With a law school degree, she practiced law in South Africa for seven years, then received a law and conflict resolution degree in the USA.

Judith Weigle

Judith Weigle is an experienced mediator and a professional at her work. Her ability to help spouses find a negotiated agreement is genuinely remarkable. With experience over ten years in the field, Judith Weigle will ensure both spouses benefit from this issue.

Natalia Lopez-Whitaker

Natalia Lopez-Whitaker is a Family Law Attorney & Mediator passionate about helping families endure these troubling times. She believes in justice and fairness and has undergone mediation training at the Center of Understanding in Conflict.

Mehernaz Farsi

Mehernaz Farsi is a passionate mediation expert who will provide a helpful mediation program even on the most challenging cases. She is suitable for every situation, with 18 years of experience in all aspects of divorce and seven years in law mediation work.

Leyla Balakhane

Leyla Balakhane is a certified professional mediator who does training in several universities and professional organizations. This mediator focuses on what’s best for the child and can resolve your conflicts and issues to benefit everyone.

What to Look for When Choosing a California Lawyer or Mediator

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What to Look for When Choosing a California Lawyer or Mediator

Look for experience

Choose a divorce attorney who has handled cases similar to yours in the past. Before hiring, you may want to consider your case’s complexity. This includes whether you have children, any significant assets, or if you’re going through a violent divorce. Selecting a divorce attorney with experience winning cases like yours can be an excellent benefit.

Schedule consultations

Consultations with divorce lawyers are generally free. You can use this to meet potential qualified attorneys and get an insight into their experience and approach toward handling situations such as yours.

Consider their approach

Divorce cases may be handled differently by various divorce attorneys. While some could favor an aggressive strategy, others might suggest negotiation or mediation. Think about the approach that best serves your divorce case objectives.

Discuss fees

Discuss the divorce attorney’s rates before hiring them. While some charge a flat fee, others may charge an hourly rate or a percentage of the settlement or judgment.

Why Choose a Divorce Mediator Instead of a Divorce Attorney California?

There are several reasons why choosing a mediator can be better than hiring a divorce lawyer California. In most cases, couples are happier and more satisfied with the result of a mediation process since everything is in their hands.

Why Choose a Divorce Mediator Instead of a Divorce Attorney California

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What’s best for your child

Divorce can be challenging for you and the people around you, but it’s even tougher on your children. Since the parents are the ones who will distinguish the issues and outline the terms and conditions regarding children, they should focus on what’s truly best for their kids.

Through divorce mediation, you can come to a mutual agreement on child sharing, child support, and child custody.

Saving money

As mentioned earlier, hiring mediators ranges from $7,000 to $10,000 per person. On the other hand, hiring divorce lawyers is a much more costly service. You’re looking at a range from $10,000 to $20,000 right off the bat.

However, it’s well known that the cost of divorce only increases from there, especially if there are disagreements that will prolong the case.

Quicker process

When it comes down to a choice between a mediator and a divorce attorney, the mediation process takes significantly less time. 

The divorce mediation program often takes only a few meetings over a few months, in which you’ll discuss all terms and conditions. You will also be informed about all the needed information regarding your divorce, such as documents, legal actions, and procedures.

Control over the divorce

A mediation program allows both parties to have complete control and discuss all issues related to your particular situation. You can make plans and arrangements that benefit you as well as your spouse.

Furthermore, both spouses will be empowered to make educated decisions and agreements customized to your specific needs. The divorce settlement will be fair and allows you to have direct input on the terms and conditions regarding the divorce. This includes child custody, visitations, child support, property divisions, and amenities.

Online Divorce Mediation with a Lawyer in California

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Online Divorce Mediation

In the online divorce mediation process, the mediator works with couples through technology. This allows spouses to negotiate and state conditions and terms more efficiently and less costly.

One of the main benefits online divorce mediation offers is that this allows couples to work through their issues remotely. This is useful for couples who live far apart, disabled individuals, or people who have busy schedules.

In addition, online divorce mediation is way far expensive than regular divorce proceedings, whereas on-site mediation sessions require couples to pay for travel expenses like gas or public transport as well as the mediator’s time.

California Divorce Lawyers By City:

San Jose Divorce Lawyer
Los Angeles Divorce Attorney
San Diego Divorce Attorney
San Francisco Divorce Lawyer
Sacramento Divorce Attorney
Long Beach Divorce Lawyer
Orange County Divorce Lawyer