A Complete Guide to Navigating the Uncontested Divorce Process in California

Uncontested divorce in California has become an increasingly popular option for couples seeking to dissolve their marriage without the hassle, time, and expenses of a contested divorce. This process, which involves both parties agreeing on all terms and conditions before filing for divorce, can lead to a smoother and more amicable separation. Understanding the benefits, requirements, and steps involved in an uncontested divorce is essential to determine if this is the right choice for your situation.

In California, an uncontested divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage” and can significantly streamline the divorce process. Couples can avoid the adversarial nature of battles in court when they agree on various critical aspects, such as property division, child custody, spousal support, and more. This type of divorce is often less expensive and faster than a contested divorce, as there is no need for a lengthy trial or multiple court appearances.

It’s important to note that an uncontested divorce requires open communication and compromise between both parties. Both spouses must be willing to disclose assets, liabilities, and other relevant information fully. Additionally, they must reach a mutual agreement on all matters related to the separation. Those who cannot do so may need to explore other divorce options or seek legal advice to help navigate the complexities of the process.

Uncontested Divorce California Basics

Overview of Uncontested Divorce

In California, an uncontested divorce is when both spouses agree to the terms and conditions of their divorce, including division of property, child custody, and support arrangements. It is a faster and less expensive option compared to a contested divorce. The process begins with one spouse filing a petition for divorce and the other spouse providing a written agreement or response.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

Contested and uncontested divorces differ in crucial ways:

  • Contested Divorce: Both parties cannot agree, and the issues must be resolved in court. This process can be lengthy and costly, typically involving hearings, attorney fees, and potentially a trial.
    • Disputes about property division, custody, or support payments.
    • The need for witnesses and evidence.
    • Legal costs and emotional stress due to courtroom drama.
  • Uncontested Divorce: Both spouses agree on all aspects of the divorce, eliminating the need for a trial.
    • Faster and cheaper than a contested divorce.
    • It reduces emotional stress and is more amicable.
    • Allows spouses to maintain more control and confidentiality during the process.
Divorce Types Contested Divorce Uncontested Divorce
Resolution Source Court intervention Spousal agreement
Length and Cost Longer, more expensive Shorter, less expensive
Emotional Stress Higher Lower
Control & Privacy Limited Greater

Uncontested divorce in California is preferred when both spouses can work together to agree on their divorce terms, allowing them to avoid the time, expense, and stress associated with contested divorce proceedings.

Starting the Divorce Process

Petition for Dissolution

In California, initiating the uncontested divorce process begins with the petitioner filing a document called the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This form outlines the basic information about the marriage, such as the parties involved, their assets, debts, and any children they have together. Once completed, the petitioner submits the form to the appropriate court.

Service of Process

The next step involves serving the other party, the respondent, with a copy of the petition and a summons. The summons is a legal document that informs the respondent about the divorce action and their rights throughout the process. Service of process can be done through various methods, including:

  • Personal service: a third party, often a professional process server, hand-delivers the documents to the respondent
  • Mail: sending the documents via registered or certified mail with the return receipt requested
  • Publication: publishing a notice in a newspaper when the respondent cannot be located after diligent efforts

After serving the respondent, the proof of service must be filed with the court to confirm that notification occurred.

Default vs. Uncontested Process

There are two paths the divorce process can take at this stage: default or uncontested.

  • Default case: If the respondent does not respond within 30 days after being served with the petition and summons, the petitioner can request the court to enter a default judgment. This means the court will grant the divorce without the respondent’s participation, and the petitioner’s proposed terms will generally be accepted.
  • Uncontested process: Alternatively, if the respondent agrees with the terms in the petition, they can sign a written agreement, called a stipulation, and submit it to the court. This submission acknowledges that both parties agree regarding the divorce terms, and no further litigation is needed.

When pursuing an uncontested divorce in California, both parties must communicate and agree on the terms, making the process smoother and more efficient.

Legal Separation Vs. Divorce

Legal separation and divorce are two distinct options for couples in California who decide to end their marital relationship. Although both options involve a legal process, their outcomes and implications differ for the individuals involved.

In a legal separation, the couple remains legally married but lives separately. This option allows both parties to maintain certain rights, such as medical insurance or social security benefits. In contrast, a divorce dissolves the marital bond, leaving the individuals free to remarry or enter into new legal relationships.

To obtain a legal separation in California, couples must petition the court to negotiate the division of assets, debts, and child custody. Unlike a divorce, there is no mandatory waiting period, and the legal separation process can be finalized relatively quickly.

In contrast, the divorce process in California begins with filing a dissolution of marriage petition. A crucial distinction between legal separation and divorce is the mandatory six-month waiting period from the time of filing until the divorce can be finalized. During this time, the couple must resolve important issues, such as the division of property and debts and child custody and support arrangements.

Both legal separation and divorce involve the negotiation of important matters, including:

  • Division of assets and debts
  • Child custody and visitation rights
  • Child and spousal support obligations

Ultimately, the choice between legal separation and divorce depends on the couple’s circumstances and preferences. Some couples may prefer legal separation for religious reasons or to maintain certain benefits. In contrast, others may opt for divorce to achieve complete independence and the ability to remarry. Regardless of the chosen path, navigating the legal process in California requires a thorough understanding of the relevant laws and procedures.

Navigating Child-Related Issues

When going through an uncontested divorce in California, it is essential to address child-related issues, namely child custody and child support.

Child Custody

In an uncontested divorce, both parents must agree on a custody arrangement. In California, there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody determines who decides about the child’s upbringing, while physical custody refers to where the child will reside.

  • Joint Legal Custody: Both parents are responsible for making decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education and medical care.
  • Sole Legal Custody: One parent can decide about the child’s upbringing without consulting the other parent.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Both parents share in the child’s living arrangements, and the child spends significant time with each parent.
  • Sole Physical Custody: The child resides primarily with one parent, while the other may have visitation rights.

It is important to detail the agreed-upon custody arrangement in the divorce papers to avoid future disputes.

Child Support

In California, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. The state has set guidelines to determine child support, considering the parents’ incomes and the time each parent spends with the child. The non-custodial parent is typically responsible for paying child support.

You can use the state’s online Child Support Calculator to calculate child support in California. This tool will estimate the monthly payment based on the information you provide.

Some factors that can affect child support payments include:

  • Each parent’s income
  • Amount of time each parent spends with the child
  • Expenses related to childcare, healthcare, and education

Establishing a child support agreement in your uncontested divorce is crucial to ensure the children’s financial needs are met. Ensure to include the child support arrangement in the divorce papers, specifying the amount and payment schedule.

Dealing with Financial Matters

Division of Property and Debt

In an uncontested divorce in California, both parties typically agree on dividing their property and debts. This division should be equitable, considering factors like the length of the marriage, each spouse’s contributions to the property, and the financial needs of both parties. Community property laws apply in California, meaning that assets and debts acquired during the marriage are generally divided equally between spouses.

It is essential to make a comprehensive list of all marital property, such as:

  • Real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Investments and retirement accounts
  • Personal property, like furniture and collectibles
  • Debts, including credit cards, loans, and mortgages

Spousal Support and Alimony

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is another crucial aspect to address in an uncontested divorce in California. The purpose of spousal support is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a similar standard of living as they had during the marriage. To determine the amount of spousal support, factors like the length of the marriage, the earning capacity of each spouse, and the needs of the supported spouse are considered.

Generally, spousal support can be temporary or permanent. Temporary support is provided during the divorce process, while permanent support is included in the final divorce judgment. In California, the court may use a formula or specific calculation to determine the spousal support amount, but the outcome can vary on a case-to-case basis.

It is important to note that spousal support in California is taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible for the payer.

Finalizing Uncontested Divorce

Marital Settlement Agreement

In California, a key step in finalizing an uncontested divorce is to create a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). This legal document details how the couple will divide their assets, debts, and responsibilities. Both parties must work together to agree on all terms, including:

  • Division of property and debts
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (alimony)

Both parties must sign the MSA and submit it to the court for review before finalizing the divorce.

Final Paperwork

Once the MSA has been agreed upon and signed, the couple must submit the necessary paperwork to the court. This includes:

  • Fl-130: Appearance, Stipulation, and Waivers
  • Fl-141: Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure
  • FL-350: Stipulation to Establish or Modify Child Support
  • FL-160: Property Declaration

In addition to these forms, you may need to provide other documentation, such as financial records or parenting plans, depending on your situation.


The court will review the case after receiving the completed paperwork and MSA. If the court approves the settlement and finds it meets all legal requirements, it will issue a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. This document, sometimes called a stipulated judgment, officially finalizes the divorce.

If the court identifies any issues or discrepancies in the MSA, they may request further information or adjustments before a judgment can be issued. In some cases, a court hearing may be necessary to resolve any disputes or concerns that cannot be settled through communication between the parties and their attorneys.

Finalizing an uncontested divorce in California requires thorough preparation and cooperation between both parties. A couple can effectively navigate the divorce process and achieve a timely resolution by adhering to the legal requirements and working together to create a fair and comprehensive Marital Settlement Agreement.

Additional Assistance and Resources

Self-Help Centers and Mediation

In California, self-help centers are available for individuals seeking guidance on uncontested divorce proceedings. These centers offer free legal information and assistance filling out divorce papers and forms.

One viable alternative to traditional divorce proceedings is divorce mediation. Couples can work with a neutral mediator to resolve disputes and reach an amicable agreement. Mediation can benefit both parties by saving time, reducing stress, and minimizing costs.

Legally-Required Information and Forms

Certain legally-required information and forms must be completed for an uncontested divorce in California. These include:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (FL-100)
  • Summons (FL-110)
  • Declaration Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105, if applicable)
  • Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150, if applicable)

Additional forms and documents may be necessary depending on the couple’s circumstances. All required forms can be found on the California Courts website or at a self-help center.

Remember to consult with legal professionals if unsure about your rights and obligations in an uncontested divorce. While self-help centers and mediation can be valuable resources, they may not cover all aspects or complexities of your situation.

Court and Attorney-Related Aspects

Court Process and Waiting Period

In California, the court process for an uncontested divorce begins when one spouse files a divorce petition. The paperwork is submitted to the county court where the filing spouse resides. The court will review the uncontested divorce after properly serving the other spouse and completing the necessary forms. California has a mandatory six-month waiting period between the time the petition is filed and the finalization of the divorce.

Court Fees and Fee Waivers

Court fees are typically involved when filing for an uncontested divorce in California. The current fee for filing a divorce petition is $435. However, additional fees may depend on the forms required in the divorce process. It is important to check with your local court clerk for a full list of fees that may apply to your situation.

If the cost of filing for divorce is a financial burden, California courts offer fee waivers for eligible applicants. To qualify for a fee waiver, one must complete and submit a Request to Waive Court Fees (Form FW-001) to the court clerk. The court will then review the application and determine if the applicant qualifies for a waiver.

Some individuals may represent themselves in an uncontested divorce, while others may hire an attorney. The cost of an attorney can vary, but most professionals offer affordable options for uncontested divorces. Researching and consulting with multiple attorneys is important to find one that aligns with your needs and budget.

Overall, court and attorney-related aspects are essential when pursuing an uncontested divorce in California. Individuals can better navigate their uncontested divorce by understanding the court process, waiting period, fees, and attorney options.

Types of Divorce in California

Summary Dissolution

Summary dissolution is a simplified divorce process available in California for couples who meet specific requirements. This type of divorce is quicker and less expensive than a traditional dissolution of marriage. Eligibility criteria for summary dissolution include:

  • Married for less than 5 years
  • No children together
  • No real property ownership
  • Debts under $6,000 (excluding car loans)
  • Community property value less than $45,000 (excluding cars)
  • Both spouses agree to waive alimony
  • Complete agreement on the division of assets and debts

Summary dissolution does not require a court appearance. Couples must file a joint petition, financial disclosures, and property settlement agreement. The process takes a minimum of six months to finalize.

Domestic Partnership Dissolution

In California, registered domestic partners can dissolve their partnership through a process similar to divorce. There are two main options for dissolving a domestic partnership:

    1. Summary dissolution for domestic partners: This process is available if partners meet specific requirements similar to those for a summary dissolution of marriage. Eligible couples must:
      • Be registered domestic partners for less than 5 years
      • Have no children together
      • Not own real property or have debts over $6,000 (excluding car loans)
      • Have community property value less than $45,000 (excluding cars)
      • Both partners agree to waive alimony
      • Have a complete agreement on the division of assets and debts

      Like summary dissolution of marriage, summary dissolution for domestic partners does not require a court appearance, and the process takes at least six months.

    2. Regular dissolution for domestic partners: If partners do not qualify for summary dissolution, they must proceed with a regular dissolution. This process involves filing a petition for dissolution, exchanging financial disclosures, and potentially attending court hearings. A final judgment will be issued following a settlement agreement or trial.

Attorney or DIY?

When considering an uncontested divorce in California, individuals can choose between hiring an attorney or completing the process themselves (DIY). Both options have pros and cons, and the best choice depends on the specific circumstances of each case.

Pros of Hiring an Attorney

      • Expertise: An attorney has the knowledge and experience to navigate the legal system, ensuring that all forms and processes are completed accurately.
      • Efficiency: With a professional at the helm, the divorce process will likely progress more smoothly and quickly.
      • Avoid mistakes: A knowledgeable attorney can help avoid errors that may cause delays or complications.
      • Objective advice: An attorney can provide unbiased guidance, helping individuals make an informed decision during a difficult period.

Cons of Hiring an Attorney

      • Cost: This is the most notable downside of hiring an attorney. Legal fees can be significant, especially in cases where hourly rates apply.
      • Less control: When working with an attorney, individuals may have less control over the process and feel less involved in the outcome.

Pros of DIY Divorce

      • Cost savings: Individuals handling their uncontested divorce can save on legal fees, especially in cases with limited funds.
      • Control: By managing the process, individuals have more control over their divorce and can feel more in tune with the outcome.

Cons of DIY Divorce

      • Complexity: The legal system can be confusing, and those without legal training may find it challenging to understand and accurately complete the required forms and filings.
      • Time-consuming: Handling a divorce without professional assistance may be more time-consuming due to the need for research and proper paperwork completion.
      • Risk of mistakes: DIY divorces carry a higher risk of errors, which may result in delays or potential complications.

As evident, considerations such as cost, complexity, and risk of errors play a crucial role in deciding whether to hire an attorney or opt for a DIY approach in an uncontested divorce situation.

Online Divorce

In today’s digital era, online divorce platforms have simplified the uncontested divorce process in California. Services like 3StepDivorce and DivorceNet have gained popularity among people who prefer a cost-effective and less time-consuming alternative to traditional divorce procedures.

These platforms provide users with all the required documentation and step-by-step guidance to navigate the process easily. It is crucial to note that these services are designed for uncontested divorces, which means both parties must mutually agree on all essential aspects, such as property division, spousal support, and child custody.

Opting for a do-it-yourself online divorce may seem daunting. Still, with the help of trusted platforms Californians can effectively navigate the process, saving both time and money. However, it is essential to recognize that these services are not a substitute for legal counsel. Consulting a qualified attorney remains the most suitable course of action in complex disputes or contested divorces.


What is an uncontested divorce in California?

An uncontested divorce in California occurs when both spouses agree to all terms of their divorce, such as property division, child custody, and spousal support. This type of divorce typically allows for a quicker and less expensive process than contested divorces.

What are the requirements for an uncontested divorce in California?

To qualify for an uncontested divorce, both spouses:

      • Must have lived in California for at least 6 months
      • Must have lived in the county where they are filing for at least 3 months
      • Agree on all aspects of the divorce, including division of property and debts, child custody, and spousal support

What is the process for filing an uncontested divorce in California?

      1. One spouse completes and files the initial paperwork with the appropriate court, including the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-100) and Summons (Form FL-110).
      2. The filing spouse serves the other spouse with copies of the paperwork.
      3. Both spouses complete and exchange financial disclosures, such as the Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140) and Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).
      4. If children are involved, both spouses must attend a mandatory parenting course.

If both spouses agree on all terms and have completed the required steps, they can submit a written agreement to the court outlining their agreements on all aspects of the divorce. Once the court approves the agreement, the divorce is granted.

How long does an uncontested divorce take in California?

California has a mandatory 6-month waiting period from when final papers are served before a divorce can be finalized. However, if couples have reached an agreement and completed all necessary paperwork promptly, it’s possible to have an uncontested divorce finalized shortly after the 6-month waiting period.