Filing Your Case

Once you are ready to start your divorce or legal separation case for your marriage or domestic partnership, and know which county to file your case in, you are ready to start your court case. Click for a program that will help you make sure you are filing your case in the right county.

Keep in mind that there are many forms to fill out throughout the court process, and it 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 your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center. Click for help finding a lawyer.

  • Click to see information on Legal Steps for a Divorce or Legal Separation (FL-107-INFO).

Fill Out Your Court Forms

To file for divorce or legal separation, you have to fill out the same forms. But the forms are different if you are filing for divorce or legal separation of a marriage or of a registered domestic partnership, or if you are filing to end a same-sex marriage and a domestic partnership at the same time.  Make sure you read the section that applies to you.

If you want specific legal advice about how to fill out your court forms, talk to a lawyer. What you write on your court papers can be very important and 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. This is especially important if you think you and your spouse or domestic partner are likely to have disagreements about the issues that the court forms ask you about.

Click on the topic that descries your situation to get instructions:

For people who are married only  (for heterosexual and same-sex marriages)

For registered domestic partners only (for same-sex domestic partnerships or for heterosexual domestic partnerships of couples over 62 years old)

For people wanting to end a same-sex marriage AND a domestic partnership at the same time

Important: If you are married only but to a same-sex spouse, you MAY choose to fill out the petition form, FL-103, for domestic partners (so click on "For registered domestic partners only" and do not worry that you are actually married). But you can also fill out FL-100 and stay with For people who are married only -- it makes no difference.  You MUST use FL-103 to end a same-sex marriage that you entered into in California if neither spouse is a resident of California and you both live in states or countries that will not end a same-sex marriage — so if that is your case, click on For registered domestic partners only.


For people who are married ONLY

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out these forms (since you are starting this case, you are the petitioner):

    • Petition — Marriage (Family Law) (Form FL-100 | video instructions ). On this form, you give the court some basic information about your marriage, and you ask for the orders you want the court to make.
    • Summons (Family Law) (Form FL-110 | video instructions ).  This form contains important information for you and for your spouse about the divorce or separation process. It contains some standard restraining orders limiting what you can do with your property, money, and other assets or debts. It also prohibits you or your spouse from moving out of state with your children from your marriage, and from applying for a new or replacement passport for any of your children together, without the prior written consent of the other or a court order. And it lets you know that if you or someone in your household need affordable health insurance, you can apply for Covered California. READ this form carefully!!

    If you need more room on your petition to list your property and debts, use  the following form:

    If you have children under the age of 18 with your spouse, 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 custody and visitation 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/partner support issues, so you can at least ask questions about those issues.

    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. Fill out local forms, if required
    Some courts ask you to fill out local forms. Contact your court clerk’s office, check your court’s website, or talk to your family law facilitator or self-help center to ask about your court’s local forms.

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

 

For registered domestic partners only

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out these forms (since you are starting this case, you are the petitioner):

    • Petition — Domestic Partnership/Marriage (Family Law) (Form FL-103 | video instructions ). On this form, you give the court some basic information about your domestic partnership, and you ask for the orders you want the court to make.
      AND
    • Summons (Family Law) (Form FL-110 | video instructions ).  This form contains important information for you and for your domestic partner about the divorce or separation process. It contains some standard restraining orders limiting what you can do with your property, money, and other assets or debts. It also prohibits you or your domestic partner from moving out of state with your children from your partnership, and from applying for a new or replacement passport for any of your children together, without the prior written consent of the other or a court order. And it lets you know that if you or someone in your household need affordable health insurance, you can apply for Covered CaliforniaREAD this form carefully!!

    If you need more room on your petition to list your property and debts, use  the following form:

    If you have children under the age of 18 with your 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 custody and visitation 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/partner support issues, so you can at least ask questions about those issues.

    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. Fill out local forms, if required
    Some courts ask you to fill out local forms. Contact your court clerk’s office, check your court’s website, or talk to your family law facilitator or self-help center to ask about your court’s local forms.

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

 

For people wanting to end a same-sex marriage AND a domestic partnership at the same time

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out these forms (since you are starting this case, you are the petitioner):

    • Petition — Domestic Partnership/Marriage (Family Law) (Form FL-103 | video instructions ). On this form, you give the court some basic information about your domestic partnership and your marriage, and you ask for the orders you want the court to make. Make sure you answer the questions about both, your marrage and your domestic partnership.

      AND
    • Summons (Family Law) (Form FL-110 | video instructions ).  This form contains important information for you and for your spouse/domestic partner about the divorce or separation process. It contains some standard restraining orders limiting what you can do with your property, money, and other assets or debts. It also prohibits you or your spouse/partner from moving out of state with your children from your marriage or partnership, and from applying for a new or replacement passport for any of your children together, without the prior written consent of the other or a court order. And it lets you know that if you or someone in your household need affordable health insurance, you can apply for Covered CaliforniaREAD this form carefully!!

    If you need more room on your petition to list your property and debts, use the following form:

    If you have children under the age of 18 with your spouse/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 custody and visitation 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/partner support issues, so you can at least ask questions about those issues.

    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. Fill out local forms, if required
    Some courts ask you to fill out local forms. Contact your court clerk’s office, check your court’s website, or talk to your family law facilitator or self-help center to ask about your court’s local forms.

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

File Your Forms With the Court Clerk

Turn in your forms (the originals AND copies) to the court clerk. If there are no obvious errors, the clerk will take the original of each form and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.”

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 petition (often called a “first appearance”). If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

If you want the judge to make temporary orders for child or spousal support, bill payment, protection from domestic violence, or other issues, you must fill out and file other forms. Talk to your family law facilitator or self-help center to ask for help with temporary orders.

Serve Your First Set of Court Forms

The law says your spouse or domestic partner must be told that you have started the legal process for a divorce, legal separation, or annulment. To do this, you must “serve” your spouse or domestic partner with copies of all your court papers. The judge CANNOT make any orders or judgments in your divorce or legal separation case until your spouse or domestic partner has been properly “served.”

Who can serve your papers?

What must be served?

How must the papers be served?

File your proof of service

After you serve


Who can serve your papers?

To “serve” your papers, you will have to find someone 18 or older (NOT you) to deliver a copy of your papers to your spouse or domestic partner. The “server” (the person delivering your papers to your spouse/domestic partner) can be a:

  • Friend,
  • Relative,
  • County sheriff, or
  • Process server.

If you hire a process server or use the sheriff, try to give him or her a photo of your spouse or domestic partner and a list of times and places when it will be easy to find that person. Look for a process server close to where your spouse or domestic partner lives or works. Fees are often based on how far the server has to travel. So this will save you money.

Service is very important, so you must do it correctly. For more information about "service."

What needs to be served?
Your “server” will need to serve your spouse or domestic partner with:

  • A copy of ALL the papers you filed with the court (except for any fee waiver papers you may have filed — these are confidential).
  • A blank Response — Marriage (Form FL-120 | video instructions ) if you are married, or a blank Response — Domestic Partnership (Form FL-123 | video instructions ) if you are domestic partners.
  • If you have children with your spouse or domestic partner, include a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120 | video instructions ).

How the papers must be served
The papers can be served in 1 of 2 ways:

  • Personal service
    This means that your “server” hand-delivers a copy of all the papers (and  the blank forms) to your spouse or domestic partner. In most cases, you  will have to do personal service for your initial divorce or legal separation  papers.

    OR
  • Service by mail with a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt
    If you and your spouse or domestic partner are cooperating on your family law case, and your spouse or domestic partner agrees to accept service by mail, this can be an easy and less expensive way to serve the papers.

    Someone 18 or older (NOT you) that is not involved in the case must mail  copies of each of the forms you filed with the court, the blank forms listed  above, and 2 copies of the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt (Family Law) (Form FL-117). Click to find out more about service by Notice and Acknoledgment of Receipt.

    Form FL-117 shows the court that your spouse or domestic partner  received your forms. If your spouse or domestic partner does not sign,  date, and return this form, you will have to have him or her served again  by personal service.

    Note: If your spouse or domestic partner lives outside of California, you  may be able to serve him or her with the Petition and Summons by  certified mail, with return receipt requested. Ask a lawyer or your family law facilitator to make sure you can use this type of service.
IMPORTANT: If you need to serve a divorce, legal separation or annulment Summons and Petition on your ex-spouse or partner and you do not know where he or she is, there is a special process so you can move forward with your case. Click to find out how to serve a spouse by publication or posting when you do not know your spouse's or partner's whereabouts.

Serving the local child support agency
If you or your spouse or domestic partner gets money or other help from the government for a child of this relationship (or if you have a child support case pending with the local child support agency), you must also serve a copy of your filed forms on the child support agency’s office in the county where the benefits are being paid. Find your local child support agency.

The child support agency can be served by mail. Use Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335). You cannot use this form to serve your spouse or domestic partner!

File your proof of service
Once you serve your spouse or domestic partner with copies of your papers, you must show the court that you completed this step. To do this, your “server” has to fill out a proof of service form telling the judge when and how he or she served the papers on your spouse/domestic partner.

Your server must:

  • Fill out the Proof of Service of Summons (Form FL-115). It is very important your server fills out the Proof of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator or self-help center review it to make sure it was filled out properly.
  • Give the Proof of Service to you. If your spouse/partner was served by mail and Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt, make sure your server also gives you the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt — Family Law (Form FL-117).

You must then file your Proof of Service (and Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt, if there is one) with the court clerk. Make a copy of these forms so that, after the clerk files and keeps the original, you will have a copy for yourself.

Important! Contact a lawyer if:

  • You do not know where your spouse or domestic partner is;
  • Your spouse or domestic partner is in the military, in jail, or does not live in California; or
  • You are having a difficult time serving the forms.
  • In some local courts the family law facilitator or self-help center can help you with these problems. Click for help finding a lawyer.

    After you serve your forms

    IMPORTANT! You cannot legally end your marital status until at least 6 months after the case is filed and the respondent has been served with a copy of the summons and petition. AND the divorce will not become final on its own. One or both sides will have to file more papers before that happens. Make sure you follow all the necessary steps to make sure you finish your divorce.

    Fill Out and Serve Your Financial Disclosure Forms

    You have filed your petition 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 provide your financial disclosures at the same time as your petition if you wish, but NO LATER than 60 days after filing your petition.

    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 attorney’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 petition
    . Try to do it as soon as possible after you file your petition. 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.

    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 understand how to fill it out before you move ahead with your case.

    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).

    After Completing Step 4  - You are NOT done!!

    After completing steps 1–4, your next step depends on whether your spouse or domestic partner responds to your petition and whether you have an agreement on the terms of your divorce.

    Go to Completing Your Divorce or Legal Separation  to find out what to do next.


    If you have filed for divorce or legal separation and changed your mind, you may be able to cancel your case.

    • If you are the one who filed for divorce, you can file a Request for Dismissal (Form CIV-110) to dismiss your case. But if you do this and you later decide you want to continue with the divorce, you will have to start all over and pay the filing fee again or file and qualify for a fee waiver.
    • If you are not the one who started the divorce case, you cannot stop it on your own. You need the other side to file a Request for Dismissal (Form CIV-110) to dismiss your case. Keep in mind that, in California, as long as 1 side wants a divorce, the other side cannot stop the process by refusing to participate or sign any papers.
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