Divorce Complaint

So you’ve decided to get divorced… Now what? 

Like all lawsuits, starting your divorce begins with telling the court. And, in California, this is done by filing what’s known as a complaint.  

A divorce complaint (also known as a “petition for divorce”) is a legal document that initiates divorce proceedings; it notifies the court of your intentions to dissolve your marriage, asks for their help in doing so, and provides them with the necessary information to help get it done. 

Here’s what you need to know about how to file a divorce complaint in California, and what the Maples Family Law team can do to help you start your divorce process. 


Before Filing Your Divorce Complaint

A divorce complaint might mark the official kick-off of your proceedings, however, the process actually begins before you start filling in the blanks. 

Before you file your divorce complaint, you’ll want to pause and consider these three things: 

  1. Residency Requirements. At least one of you must have been a resident of the state for at least six months, prior to filing for divorce, and a resident of that particular county, for at least three.
  2. Type of Divorce. The type of divorce you choose will play a large role in the overall tone of your process. Pay particular attention to whether you qualify for an uncontested divorce. If not, alternative methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce are still much less expensive and time-consuming than traditional litigation.
  3. Select Representation. While you aren’t required to have an attorney, the state of California highly recommends it. An attorney can help you avoid expensive—sometimes irreversible—mistakes, and will ensure your interests are fully represented at all times. 

At some point during your divorce, you will inevitably be forced to contemplate each of these three questions. These pre-game warmups will help you determine where you want the direction of your divorce to go, and help you avoid pitfalls, once you’re there.

How to File Your Divorce Complaint

Once you’ve checked all the boxes for your pre-game warm up, it’s time to file your petition for divorce. While there are a lot of small nuances that will go into this, it can essentially be summed up in three basic steps. 


Step 1: Acquire and Complete Petition

Your petition for divorce marks the official beginning of your divorce. However, in order to help you, the court will need some important personal and procedural information about your situation (which should be included in your petition). =

Before you sit down to fill out your divorce complaint, make sure to have the following information on hand: 

  • Your personal information.
  • Your spouse’s personal information. 
  • Your type of separation (i.e. legal separation, divorce, annulment, etc.).
  • Your grounds for filing for divorce.  
  • Your dates of marriage and separation. 
  • The names, identification, and personal information of any minor children that you share—whether biological or adopted
  • Your custody preferences. 
  • Your intentions to seek alimony
  • All separate property.
  • All of the community property (including debt). 
  • Whether or not you’ll be seeking attorney’s fees. 

This is the same form you’d use to initiate a legal separation, an annulment, and to terminate a domestic partnership. So it’s important to make sure you’re checking the right boxes when filling out this information. 


Step 2: Complete Additional Paperwork

While your petition is certainly important, it is only one aspect of filing for divorce, and, in California, there will likely be other documents you’ll need to include in your packet, before filing.

These documents will vary, depending on the unique circumstances of your case (such as, whether or not you have children). However, some of these additional divorce documents will likely include:

  • Summons
  • Proof of Service of Summons
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and enforcement Act (UCCJEA) 
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application
  • Property Declaration 
  • Declaration of Disclosure
  • Income and Expense Declaration
  • Schedule of Assets and Debt

When in doubt, best to talk to a family law attorney. Divorce errors can be costly, and can sometimes require you to refile. Hence, it’s best to make sure you have everything you need the first time around. 


Step 3: File Your Paperwork 

Once you’ve gathered and completed all the necessary forms—and have made at least two copies of everything for your personal records—it’ll be time to file these things with the court. 

Divorces are handled at the county level, so you will need to submit these documents to the county courthouse over your jurisdiction. 

At this time, you’ll also be expected to pay a filing fee. In California, the filing fee for divorce is $435. If you can’t afford this amount, then make sure to include a fee waiver in your stack of documents to file. 


After Filing Your Divorce Complaint

After you have successfully submitted your completed divorce documents to the court, there is still one thing left to do, before you can relax: execute proper service on your spouse. 

Service of process is a fancy legal phrase for, “tell your spouse you filed for divorce.” Except, in order for it to count, it must be done properly. This usually requires someone other than you to hand deliver copies of all paperwork to your spouse, and to return proof of service to the court.

A spouse who has been served with divorce paperwork has thirty days to respond. If they don’t, a judge could enter a default judgement in their absence. If they do respond, then you’ll both proceed on to either divorce settlement negotiations, or into preparations for trial.

Either way, the most successful outcome for you lies in making sure you have a trusted family law attorney fighting at your side. 


Do You Need Help with a California Divorce Complaint?

Divorce law is complicated and highly nuanced, and–on your own–filing for one can be a daunting task to undertake. However, with an experienced attorney showing you the ropes, it doesn’t have to be as stressful as you might be thinking. 

For more questions on how to file a divorce complaint in California—or what to do if you’ve been served with one—we want to hear from you. Call the Maples Family Law team at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online, and let us help guide you through this important process.