Divorce & Legal Separation
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You can end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in 3 different ways:

  • Dissolution (divorce)
  • Legal Separation
  • Annulment

To learn about the differences between these 3 ways, go to Options to End a Marriage or Domestic Partnership on the California Courts website.

To see what steps you will have to take to end your marriage, see Legal Steps for a Divorce or Legal Separation (FL-107-INFO).

Click to learn more about child custody, child support, or other family-related topics, or go to our home page.

If you are divorced and just need a copy of your final Judgment, click for how to request copies of your divorce.

Click on a topic to learn more:
Prepare for Filing Your Case
  • Generally, if you are filing for divorce, you or your spouse or registered domestic partner must have lived in California for 6 months, and in the county where you are filing for at least 3 months. But there are exceptions:
    • If you are the same sex and got married in California, but now you live in a state or country that does not recognize same-sex marriage and will not divorce you, you can file for divorce in the California county where you got married. Keep in mind that if neither of you lives in California, the court may not be able to make orders about other issues like property and debt, spousal support, or your children. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer with experience in same-sex marriage laws.
    • If you became registered domestic partners in California, you do not have to live in California to end your domestic partnership in California.
  • For a legal separation, you do not have these residency requirements. But if you file for legal separation, and later want to end your marriage, you will have to re-file your case as a divorce.
  • If you and your spouse agree to the divorce, have no children, have been married less than 5 years, and have little or no property or debt, you may qualify for a simpler way to get divorced. It's called a Summary Dissolution. Click to see if you qualify for a summary dissolution (California Courts website).
  • If you are low income or cannot afford the court filing fees, you can ask the court to waive your fees by asking for a fee waiver. Find out more about fee waivers (California Courts website).
  • For help, go to Getting Help at the end of this page.

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Steps to File for Divorce or Legal Separation

In general, below are the steps you will have to follow. For a flowchart that shows you every step, click on the image.

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  • File these forms (with 2 copies) with the court clerk:
    • Petition (FL-100)
    • Summons ( FL-110)
    • If you have children with your spouse or domestic partner, also fill out a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105M)
    • Fee waiver forms if needed (FW-001 and FW-003) (one copy of these only)
      Click for a computer program that can help you fill out all these forms by answering simple questions.
  • Serve the forms on your spouse or partner
    • Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, give your spouse or partner a copy of the papers you filed plus a blank Response (FL-120) (and a blank FL-105 if you used one too).
    • This person then fills out a Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) and you file it with the court.
    • Your spouse or partner then has 30 days to respond.
  • Disclose financial information.
    • At the same time as Step 1 or within 60 days, fill out and serve on your spouse these forms (together with blank ones):
      • Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
      • Income & Expense Declaration (FL-150). (See Get Help for a computer program that can help you fill this form out).
      • Schedule of Assets & Debts (FL-142) or a Property Declaration (FL-160)
      • Tax returns you filed in the last 2 years (only necessary if you didn't file jointly)
    • You should file your Income and Expense Declaration but do not file the other documents or your tax returns with the court. Keep the originals and bring them to your hearing in case you need them later.
    • Fill out and file a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141)
      To understand more about how to handle the financial issues during divorce or legal separation, check out the online course Finances After Separation
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  • Finish your divorce or legal separation.
    Sign up for our One Day Divorce Program to get help finishing your case.

    There are 4 possible ways to finish your case:

    • If your spouse or partner does not respond, and you do not have a written agreement, you will need:
      • Request to Enter Default (FL-165)
      • Declaration Regarding Default or Uncontested Divorce (FL-170)
      • Judgment (FL-180)
      • Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190)
      • If you have children, are asking for child or spousal support, or property or debt division, you will need other forms. Read Completing Divorce or Separation and click on your situation to find out more.
      • 3 self-addressed stamped envelopes (2 addressed to your spouse; 1 addressed to you)
    • If your spouse or partner does not respond, and you have a written agreement, you will need:
      • Request to Enter Default (FL-165)
      • Declaration Regarding Default or Uncontested Divorce (FL-170)
      • Judgment (FL-180)
      • Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190)
      • Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that says how you will resolve all the details of the divorce like children, child and spousal support, property and debt, retirement plans, and anything else you may have together
      • 3 self-addressed stamped envelopes (2 addressed to your spouse; 1 addressed to you)
    • If your spouse or partner files a response, and you have a written agreement, you will need:
      • Appearance, Stipulation, and Waivers (FL-130)
      • Declaration Regarding Default or Uncontested Divorce (FL-170)
      • Judgment (FL-180)
      • Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190)
      • Stipulated Judgment, which is the agreement that says how you will resolve all the details of the divorce like children, child and spousal support, property and debt, retirement plans, and anything else you may have together.
      • 2 self-addressed stamped envelopes (1 addressed to your spouse; 1 addressed to you)
    • If your spouse or partner files a response, and you do not have an agreement, you will need to request a trial. Click to learn more about Contested Cases.

    Visit Completing Divorce or Separation (California Courts Website) to learn more about finishing up your divorce or legal separation.

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Spousal / Partner Support

When two people who are married or in a registered domestic partnership separate or divorce, the court can order 1 spouse or partner to pay the other one a certain amount of support (called spousal or partner support) every month. Spousal or partner support used to be called "alimony."

Spousal or partner support can be a complicated legal issue so you should talk to a lawyer or see the Family Law Facilitator to understand your rights and/or obligations.

A spouse or partner can ask for spousal support while the divorce or separation case is going on (before it is final). This is called temporary support. And they can ask for spousal or partner support once the divorce or separation is final. This is called "permanent" or "long term" support. It does not mean it is actually forever, but depending on the length of the marriage and other factors, it can last for many months, years, or permanently or until the receiving spouse dies or remarries.

To learn about how a judge makes decisions about spousal and partner support, how to ask for spousal support, how to end it, and how to write up an agreement, visit the Spousal / Partner Support section of the California Courts website.

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Property and Debts

In a divorce or legal separation, couples (or the court) must also make decisions about how to split their property and their debt. This can be complicated, especially if there is a lot of property (for example, houses, bank accounts, retirement or pension plans) or a lot of debts (for example, credit cards, mortgages, medical bills or car payments)

Watch the online course Finances After Separation to understand how financial issues must be decided as part of your divorce or separation.

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California is a community property state. This means that most property or debt that the couple acquires during marriage or domestic partnership is "community property" or "community debt." There are exceptions. For example, an inheritance is generally the separate property of the person who receives it, even if it was received during the marriage.

Anything that either spouse or partner had before the marriage, or after the date they separated, is "separate property."

Sometimes, it is not clear whether something was owned before a marriage/partnership or during it, and this can make things more complicated. For example, if you bought a house before you got married, but then made mortgage payments during the marriage, the house is partly your separate property and partly community property with your spouse.

It is very important that you fill out your financial disclosure papers as part of your divorce case (see Step 3 of the Steps to File for Divorce of Legal Separation) as accurately and completely as you can. This will help you, your spouse or partner, and the judge make sure that everything is divided fairly in your divorce or separation.

NEED HELP? For help trying to reach an agreement with your spouse or partner that divides your property and debts, visit the San Mateo Court Family Law ADR Program which provides, at a low cost, mediators and arbitrators that can help you reach an agreement and resolve your divorce or separation with less conflict and more control.

You can read more about Property and Debt in a Divorce or Legal Separation on the California Courts website, including how to collect on a family law judgment if your ex-spouse or partner will not pay you what the court ordered after dividing your property.

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When Is a Divorce Final?

The soonest you can be divorced is 6 months and one day from the earliest of these dates:

  • The date your spouse or partner was served with the Summons (FL-110) and Petition (FL-100),
  • The date your spouse or partner filed a Response (FL-120), or
  • The date you or your spouse/partner filed the Appearance, Stipulation, and Waivers (FL-130).

But, remember, you MUST file papers to finish your divorce and will not be divorced until the court enters a Judgment.

If you filed for legal separation, there is no waiting period. You will be legally separated on the date the court enters a Judgment in the case.

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Get Help and More Information
  • If you need help starting your divorce or legal separation or completing the process after you have started your case, visit the San Mateo Court's Family Law Facilitator during regular posted hours.
    • Click for a computer program that can help you fill out all these forms by answering simple questions.
  • Or, if you are ready for a final judgment, sign up for our One Day Divorce Program to get help finishing your case.
  • Other workshops as available. Please ask the San Mateo Court's Family Law Facilitator what workshops are available for your situation.
  • If you and your spouse or partner need help dividing your property or debt, or working out other parts of your separation like a parenting plan, child support, or spousal support, you can try mediation or arbitration. The San Mateo Court offers low cost mediators and arbitrators that can help you. To learn more, visit our Family Law Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program page.
    • Keep in mind that this is different from Family Court Services, which is only for custody and visitation issues. The Family Court Services counselor will make a recommendation to the judge if you and the other parent can't reach an agreement about parenting. This service is free, and required by the court if you or the other parent asks for a court order because you cannot agree on a parenting plan. Click to learn more about Family Court Services and Child Custody Recommending Counseling.
  • Watch an online course about how to handle the financial issues during divorce or legal separation: Finances After Separation.
  • Check out Families Change - A Guide to Separation and Divorce with 3 versions-one for parents, one for children, and one for teens and pre-teens.
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  • Visit our Videos and More Help to find step-by-step instructions from other counties in California that can help guide you.

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