Contested Process

If your spouse or domestic partner has filed a petition and you file a response and disagree with what your spouse or partner is asking for, you are involved in a contested case.

The case can be contested because you do not agree with anything your spouse or partner is asking for. Or you may agree on some issues but not others. If this is the case, you can write up your agreement on the issues you worked out and leave the other issues for a judge to decide.

If you are in a contested case, you may want to try mediation to resolve your case yourselves and not leave the decision up to a judge. If you and your spouse or domestic partner can reach an agreement on all or at least some of the issues in your divorce or legal separation, you can save yourselves time and money, as well as the emotional stress of fighting over these issues in court.

In most courts, when there are issues you cannot resolve by agreement, one of you has to file and serve a form to set a trial date. Also, most courts usually require the parties to attend a settlement conference before the trial. Ask the court clerk what your next step should be and whether there are any special, local forms you need to fill out. Click to find the website, address, and telephone number of your local court.

If you and your spouse or domestic partner want help to settle your case, ask the court clerk or family law facilitator at your local court if there are any mediation programs available.

If you have a contested case, talk to a family law facilitator or a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.

The information we provide you on this Online Self-Help Center is very general and cannot provide you the level of detail and information you will need to handle your contested case. The steps to follow in contested cases vary a lot depending on the individual circumstances in your case.

Fill Out and File Your Response

Like the Petition, the Response asks for information about the length of your marriage or registered domestic partnership, and other basic information about your relationship. It will ask you what you own and what you owe, and about related issues such as child custody and visitation, child or spousal support, domestic violence, and other matters.

If you want specific legal advice about how to fill out your Response, talk to a lawyer. In a divorce or legal separation, you and your spouse or domestic partner may have disagreements so what you write on your Response can be very important and can affect the outcome of the case. Click for help finding a lawyer.

IMPORTANT! You only have 30 days to file your Response.

  • The days are counted from the date you were served with your spouse’s or partner’s Petition for divorce.
  • If your spouse or partner is willing to give you more than 30 days, make sure you get this in writing and have your spouse/partner sign the “extension.”
    1. Fill out your court forms

      Fill out (remember, you are the respondent):

                          OR

      If you have children with your spouse or domestic partner, also fill out:

      • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120 | video instructions ).
      • If you want the court to make orders about custody and visitation, you can also fill out the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (Form FL-311). It is an optional form (you do not have to use it), but you may find it helpful in making sure you do not leave anything out of your request. It contains a lot of detail about schedules for visits and holidays, as well as other details that can help you as you try to do what is best for your children.

    2. Have your forms reviewed
      If your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center helps with divorces, ask them to review your paperwork. They can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case. Even if they do not help with divorces, they probably help with child support and spousal or partner support issues, so you can at least ask questions about filling out the Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150 | video instructions ).

      You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire divorce case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”

    3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
      One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your spouse or domestic partner. The original is for the court.

    4. File your forms with the court clerk within 30 days of being served with the Petition
      Turn in your forms to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” One copy is for you and the other is for the petitioner (your spouse or domestic partner).

      • You will have to pay a filing fee. Find out how much your fee will be. Keep in mind you are filing your first papers, a response, often called a “first appearance.” If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

    5. Serve your papers on your spouse or domestic partner
      Serve a copy of the Response — Marriage (Form FL-120 | video instructions ) or Response — Domestic Partnership/Marriage (Form FL-123 | video instructions ) and any other papers you attached, on your spouse or domestic partner. You can have someone serve it by mail or in person.

      Find out more about "service of process." You can have this form served on your spouse or domestic partner before the clerk stamps it — just make sure you do not serve the original.

    6. File your Proof of Service
      Have the server (person who served your papers) fill out a proof of service form. The server should fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) if he or she served your spouse or domestic partner in person. Or fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) if he or she served the papers by mail.

      Then, file the Proof of Service with the court clerk. (If you had your spouse or domestic partner served with an unstamped copy of the Response (Form FL-120 (video instructions ) or Form FL-123 (video instructions )), you can file the original of the Response together with the Proof of Service.)

    Fill Out and Serve Your Financial Disclosure Forms

    You have filed your response in your divorce or legal separation case. Now, you are ready to complete the financial disclosures needed to get divorced or legally separated. Keep in mind that you can file your financial disclosures at the same time as your response if you wish, but NO LATER than 60 days after you file your response.

    California law requires that you and your spouse or domestic partner give each other written information about what you own and what you owe, and about your income and expenses. To do this, there is a set of forms you have to fill out and exchange. This is called “disclosure.”

    The point of disclosure is to make sure that you and your spouse or domestic partner are aware of everything you each own and owe, separately and together, so you can divide your property and debts equally. It also gives you the financial information you need to make decisions about child and spousal or partner support.

    You cannot get divorced if you do not exchange your disclosures. If you leave anything out of your paperwork, either by mistake or on purpose, your property division can be “set aside” or canceled. And your divorce case may be reopened. If the court finds out that you left anything out or lied on your disclosure forms on purpose, the court can order that any property you did not list goes to your former spouse or domestic partner. You can also be ordered to pay his or her lawyer’s fees and a fine.

    The first disclosure you make is called the “preliminary declaration of disclosure.” Sometimes, you also have to make a second, final disclosure. To give your preliminary or final declaration of disclosure to your spouse or domestic partner, you must have it served in person or by mail. This means that someone, NOT you, 18 or older delivers or mails the Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140) to your spouse or domestic partner.

    You do NOT file the preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, or the final one if you need one, with the court. Instead, each of you has to serve a copy of all the completed forms on the other. You keep the original of your disclosure forms.

    You DO need to file with the court a form called the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141). This form tells the court that you have given your spouse or domestic partner the preliminary or final declaration of disclosure.

    Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure

    You MUST make your preliminary declaration of disclosure within 60 days of filing your response. Try to do it as soon as possible after you file your response. By doing it sooner rather than later, you and your spouse or domestic partner will have the information you need to divide your property and debts and to try to reach an agreement on support.

    You may have received your spouse’s or domestic partner’s preliminary declaration of disclosure already. Read this paperwork carefully. Make sure your spouse or partner did not leave any information out. If your spouse or partner has written anything on his or her forms that you disagree with, make sure you fill out your forms the way you believe they should be completed.

    If you want specific legal advice about how to fill out your disclosure documents, talk to a lawyer. The financial documents are very important, especially in cases where there is a lot of property or debt. And if you and your spouse or domestic partner are likely to have disagreements about these issues, what you write on your financial disclosure documents can affect the outcome of the case. It is very important to be accurate and complete, and a lawyer can help you figure out how to fill out the forms so that they accurately reflect your position. Click for help finding a lawyer.

    1. Fill out your disclosure forms
      The forms you need to fill out for your preliminary declaration of disclosure are:

      • Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140), which is a cover sheet for your declaration of disclosure;
      • Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142) or a Property Declaration (Form FL-160); and
      • Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).
      • You must also disclose, in writing, accurate and complete information about any investment opportunity, business opportunity, or other income-producing opportunity you have had since you separated, as long as that opportunity originated from an investment, business or other opportunity after you got married but before you separated.

    2. Attach your tax returns
      Your disclosure documents MUST include all tax returns you filed in the last 2 years.

    3. Have your forms reviewed
      If your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center helps with divorces, ask them to review your disclosure paperwork. They can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case. Even if they do not help with divorces, they probably help with child support and spousal/partner support issues, so you can at least ask questions about filling out the Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).

    4. Make at least 1 copy of all your forms and tax returns
      One copy will be for your spouse or domestic partner. The original is for you. Remember, none of these disclosure documents (except for Form FL-141, which is discussed at #5 below) are filed with the court. So it is very important that you keep your copy in a safe place in case any questions come up later and you need proof of what information you provided your spouse or domestic partner.

    5. Have someone serve a copy of your disclosure forms on your spouse or domestic partner
      Have someone 18 or older (NOT you) mail a copy of your disclosure documents to your spouse or domestic partner.

    6. File the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure

      • Fill out the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141). This form tells the court you sent your disclosure documents as required.
      • Make 2 copies of this form.
      • File the original and copies with the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you stamped “Filed.”

    Keep in mind that if anything changes or you have new information since you and your spouse/domestic partner exchanged your preliminary declarations of disclosure, you have to fill out and serve a new set of disclosure forms updating the other person about the new or changed information. You will also have to let the court know by filing another Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141).
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    Once you have filed your Response and exchanged your preliminary declaration of disclosure, your next step is to finalize your agreement with the petitioner and file the forms required to finish your divorce. Click to find out what to do next.

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