While divorce can be a long and ugly process, a simpler solution exists. Uncontested divorces allow couples to get divorced more quickly and with less hassle than the iconic contested divorce. No arguing, no petty legal maneuvers, and no stress. For couples who can agree on the terms of their divorce together, an uncontested divorce may be available.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and California uncontested divorce law. Ifyou still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in California Defined
Like many states, California has an expedited divorce process for uncontested divorce known as a “summary dissolution.” Spouses eligible for a summary dissolution will be able to seek a divorce with minimal cost and effort. A summary dissolution is only available under particular circumstances, however. To be eligible for summary dissolution, the couple must have been married for less than five years, have no children, and meet certain property restrictions. If you meet these criteria (most spouses meeting these criteria will be younger people under the age of 30), you should read more about summary dissolution on the California Courts’ website.1
Because most spouses will not qualify for summary dissolution, however, this article will focus on the more traditional form of uncontested divorce: divorce by agreement. In California, couples seeking an uncontested divorce should file for divorce normally and then file a marital termination agreement with the court. The marital termination agreement evidences the spouses’ agreement to the terms of the divorce and can make a divorce lawsuit much less complicated.
Requirements for Seeking a California Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in California, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Anyquestions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced California divorce attorney or family lawyer.
Prior to filing for divorce in California, at least one of the spouses must meet California’s state divorce residency requirement. The residency requirement is six months. This means that at least one spouse must have lived in California for six months before the court will accept the divorce filing.2
The spouses must also demonstrate that sufficient grounds to get divorced exist. California is a no-fault divorce state, which means that the spouses simply need to demonstrate that irreconcilable differences exist to seek a divorce.3 Irreconcilable differences are essentially any good reason not to remain married.4
Finally, the spouses must agree on the terms of the divorce. This is most often done by creating a marital termination agreement (also known as a marital settlement agreement). The purpose of a marital termination agreement is to put the agreement of the parties on the terms of the divorce in writing. This makes it clear what the parties agreed to.
On Spousal Support and Marital Termination Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal marital termination agreement. A marital termination agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A marital termination agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed marital termination agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and maybe helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any marital termination agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
A marital termination agreement should completely resolve all issues in the divorce. A fully-completed termination agreement should address at least the following issues:
- Division of property (including the marital home, cars, and pets);
- Division of marital debts;
- Spousal support; and
- If applicable, child custody, visitation, and child support.
In general, the court will accept whatever agreement the spouses come to as long as the agreement is not blatantly one-sided or unfair (for example, the court may question why a economically inferior spouse is waiving spousal support). The court is most likely to make adjustments to the agreement in the areas of child visitation and child custody, as the court has a special duty to ensure the child’s interests are protected.
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in California
Once you have decided to file for an uncontested divorce, the general flow of the process is as follows (this procedure assumes a divorce by agreement, rather than a summary dissolution):
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- For spouses seeking an uncontested divorce in California without the assistance of an attorney, the first step will be agreeing on the terms of the divorce and preparing te required divorce paperwork. Fortunately, the California Courts’ website has sample divorce forms that you and your spouse can use to file for divorce in any California court.5
- Next, the spouses will need to determine which court to use to file for divorce. The divorce complaint must be filed in the superior court in the county in which the spouses meet the residency requirement.
- The filing spouse should file a petition for dissolution of marriage and summons. The filing spouse will then need to serve the non-filing spouse with the divorce petition and return proof of service to the court. The non-filing spouse should then file an appearance, stipulation, and waivers, agreeing to the terms of the property settlement agreement. This paperwork filing stage is known as the “pleading stage.”
- At your final divorce hearing, the judge will review your property settlement agreement, and if there are no problems, the judge will grant a decree of divorce. Be aware, however, that your divorce will not become final until six months from the date that you filed for divorce.
For more information about divorce in California, you should visit the California Courts’ website and its family law page.6
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- California Courts - Summary dissolution
- For Married Couples, CALIFORNIA COURTS: THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF CALIFORNIA
- Cal Fam Code § 2320.
- Cal Fam Code § 2310.
- Cal Fam Code § 2311.
- For more information about divorce in California, you should visit the California Courts’ website and its family law page.