Make sure you read the basics of divorce or separation so that you know whether you want to file for divorce, legal separation, or annulment. If you want to file for divorce, also make sure you do not qualify for a summary dissolution, which is a simpler procedure. Find out if you qualify for a summary dissolution.
Once you know that you are ready to file for divorce or legal separation and do not qualify for a summary dissolution, the rest of this section will help you with the steps required to get your case started. And keep in mind that if you are in both a same-sex marriage and a domestic partnership with the same person, you can dissolve both at the same time.
Do not forget that after you start your case and file your divorce or separation papers in court, you are NOT done. You will have to file more papers to finish your divorce. The Completing Your Divorce or Legal Separation section will show you how to do that.
If you have children with your spouse or domestic partner:
Remember, to file for divorce of a marriage in California, either you or your spouse must have lived in California for 6 months and in the county where you are filing your case for at least 3 months. If you do not meet these requirements, you can file for legal separation, then file an amended petition for divorce in the county in which you live once their residency requirements are met.
EXCEPTION: Same-sex married couples who got married in California but do not live in California and live in a state (or states) that will not dissolve a same-sex marriage, can file to end their same-sex marriage in California, regardless of these residency requirements. You must file in whichever county you were 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, partner support, or your children. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer with experience in same-sex marriage laws. Click for help finding a lawyer.
If you want to end a domestic partnership registered in California, either through a divorce or a legal separation, neither you nor your partner needs to live in California. Read the California residency requirements in the Basics section for more detail about whether you can file for divorce or legal separation in California.
The divorce or legal separation court process can get very complicated, especially if you want to include support orders, child custody orders, and orders dividing your property. You may be able to get help with your case, or with portions of the case, from a lawyer or from your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center. Click for help finding a lawyer.
Note: You may be able to get help paying for a lawyer in certain situations. To learn more, read Asking for Lawyer's Fees and Costs in Family Law Cases.