Completing Divorce or Separation FAQs

Completing Your Divorce or Legal Separation — Frequently Asked Questions

 

Q. What should I do if the clerk returns the judgment forms without filing them?

A. There are a lot of things to keep track of when you prepare and submit these final forms. The court clerk will return your court forms without filing them if you leave out a required form or some information on a form, or it is not clear what you are asking for. Often the clerk will include an instruction sheet telling you what is needed before the forms can be accepted for filing. If you are not sure what needs to be done to solve the problem, talk to a lawyer or the family law facilitator or self-help center.

Sometimes the forms will be returned with a request that you schedule a court hearing. This usually means that you are asking for something that the judge needs more information about.

If the court requests that you schedule a hearing, contact a lawyer, family law facilitator, or self-help center. You may need to give notice of the hearing to your spouse or domestic partner. When you attend your hearing, be sure to bring anything the clerk’s letter asks for, as well as your copies of all the forms you have prepared or received for your case.

Q. Why would the court reject my judgment papers?

A. The court will probably reject your Judgment (Form FL-180) if:

  • The Judgment includes property and debts or other issues that were not listed in your Petition — Marriage (Form FL-100), Petition — Domestic Partnership/Marriage (Form FL-103), or your Property Declaration (Form FL-160), unless you wrote on those forms that you did not know the value of those assets and the debts were unknown at the time you filed the forms;
  • The property division requested on the property declaration forms, or agreed to in the settlement agreement or stipulated judgment, appears to be 1-sided or unfair;
  • Your forms do not give enough information about your finances or parenting plan to calculate support orders;
  • You have a case with the local child support agency and you did NOT get approval for the proposed child support payments from the local child support agency;
  • The judge does not have proof of service for the Summons and the Petition; or
  • You were missing a required court form.

Q. Where can I find information about the emotional impact of a contested divorce case?

A. Separation or divorce is a legal process, but it is also a difficult emotional process.  You and your family will surely feel the impact of the legal processes and the emotional issues.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If you and your spouse or domestic partner cannot agree about parenting responsibilities or money issues, get help from a mediator or mental health professional.
  • Keep your children out of the conflict between you and your spouse/partner. Learn more about how you can protect your children at Stepping Back From Anger: Protecting Your Children During Divorce.

Q. Is there anything else I should do after I get divorced?

A. There are a few things you should think about and take care of once your divorce is final.

  • Think about whether you want to change the beneficiary on your will or life insurance policy.
  • Close all credit card accounts that list both spouses or domestic partners and open a new 1 in your name alone.
  • Tell your employer when your marriage or domestic partnership ends so you can change your income tax withholding status or the name of the beneficiary for any employee benefits. Your employer will send information to your former spouse or domestic partner about the cost of continued health insurance coverage. You may also want to contact Covered California to find out about access to more affordable health insurance. Covered California can help reduce the cost you pay towards high quality affordable health care. For more information visit www.coveredca.com or call 1-800-300-1506.

Q. What if I want to change the agreements I made about custody and visitation or child support, but the Judgment is already final?

A. Parents can make new agreements about the custody/visitation and support of their children at any time. You can do this on your own or with a lawyer or mediator’s help.

You should file your agreement with the court. A lawyer can explain how to file your new agreement. You can use the Stipulation to Establish or Modify Child Support and Order (Form FL-350) to change your child support agreement. You can use the Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children (Form FL-355) to change your child custody agreement.

If you and the other parent cannot agree but you still want a different order about your children, you can file a motion to go back to court for modification (change) of your current order. Talk to a lawyer or the family law facilitator before filing a motion for modification.

Q. Our divorce judgment says I get the car. How do I change ownership to my name only?

A. If your Judgment says only 1 of you will own a motor vehicle that you used to own together, fill out and file a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form, Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) , to change title to the motor vehicle. Make sure to keep a copy for your records.

Q. My spouse or domestic partner and I are in a contested case and it is taking very long. Is there any way we can get divorced while we continue to fight over the other issues?

A. It depends. In some cases, you can ask for a “bifurcation” of marital status. This means that the court makes a decision on ending your marriage or domestic partnership while other issues remain open and to be decided.

Courts do not generally like to encourage this because they want cases to be decided as a whole and completely resolved. Also, sometimes when spouses or domestic partners get the divorce, they do not have as much incentive to finish the rest of the case, so it can take longer. But if you have a really good reason for asking for a bifurcation, you may be able to get the divorce while the rest of the issues are still unresolved.

To ask for a bifurcation, you have to ask the court for a separate and earlier trial on the issue of ending your marriage or domestic partnership. So, for that reason, this request is called an “application for a separate trial.”

You will need to file a Request for Order (Form FL-300) and attach a Request or Response to Request for Separate Trial (Form FL-315). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for help filling out Form FL-300. And talk to a lawyer for advice on how to prepare your paperwork. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. My spouse or domestic partner has filed an application for a separate trial. What does that mean?

A. In some cases, a party in a divorce or legal separation case can ask for a separate and earlier trial on a particular issue in the divorce case. This means that the court makes a decision on that 1 issue while the other ones are still waiting to be resolved. This is usually done when there is a very important issue that needs to be decided and 1 or both parties cannot wait until the entire case gets decided.

Some issues that can be dealt with this way are:

  • Permanent custody and visitation of the children,
  • Date of separation of the parties,
  • The validity of a prenuptial agreement, and
  • Ending of the marital status (dissolving the marriage or legally separating).

Courts may allow separate trials because sometimes resolving this 1 issue can be the only thing that stands in the way of the rest of the case being decided. For example, the date 2 people separate can be very important because it can determine when property or debt stops belonging to both spouses or partners. Sometimes people argue about this date because it can mean whether a certain piece of property belongs to both of them or only to 1 of them. Having the judge make a decision about this date can settle that issue, and then the arguments about whether something belongs to both or to just 1 would be resolved.

If your spouse or domestic partner has filed a motion for a separate trial, you can file a response by filling out and filing a Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) and attaching the Request or Response to Request for Separate Trial (Form FL-315).

Requesting a separate trial is not easy and you have to convince the judge that he or she should grant it. Talk to a lawyer for advice on how to prepare your paperwork. Click for help finding a lawyer.

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