Thinking about divorce in San Diego? Here is some important information regarding the dissolution process, as well as some helpful resources to navigate your divorce proceedings.
If you are filing for divorce, you are considered to be the “Petitioner” throughout the remainder of your case. Complete and file a Petition (FL-100), Summons (FL-110), and a Venue Declaration form (D-049). To fill out the Venue Declaration Form correctly, be sure to look at the Zip Code List on the Superior Court Website to identify the correct court branch in which to file. If you have minor children from the marriage, you must also complete the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act form (FL-105). To file these initial documents, you must pay a First Appearance Fee of $425. These documents can all be filed directly with the court, or electronically.
Once these forms have been filed with the court, you must have the court stamped copies served in person by someone else over the age of 18 to your spouse. You may not serve these documents yourself or service will be considered improper. Once these forms have been properly served, the person who served the Petition Packet must fill out the Proof of Service form (FL-115). This form needs to then be filed with the court. This can be done electronically.
If personal service is inconvenient or too costly, it is also possible to have these forms served by mail. However, this requires cooperation from the party being served. In order to serve properly by mail, you must have someone over the age of 18 complete the first half of the Notice of Acknowledgment and Receipt (FL-117). They will include two copies of this form, as well as a pre-stamped self addressed envelope to serve along with your Petition Packet. The Respondent will complete the second half of the form, keep one copy, and return the other. If and when this Notice of Acknowledgement is signed and returned, the person who served the Petition Packet will complete the Proof of Service of Summons and attach the Notice of Acknowledgment. These forms will be filed together and can be done electronically.
If your spouse has filed for divorce and served you the Petition Packet, you are considered the “Respondent” throughout the remainder of your case. From the date you are served, you have 30 calendar days to file a Response. To file a Response, complete the Response to Petition form (FL-120). If you have minor children from the marriage, you must also separately complete a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act form (FL-105), even if it is the same information in the one completed by the Petitioner.
PRELIMINARY DECLARATIONS OF DISCLOSURE (PDODs)
Parties must exchange information about all existing assets, debts, income, and expenses. This information is listed on the Schedule of Assets and Debts form (FL-142) and Income and Expense form (FL-150). These are considered your PDODs. Along with these forms, you must complete a Declaration of Disclosure form (FL-140) listing what information and documents were disclosed. These forms are not filed with the court and are only exchanged between the parties. However, you must fill out and complete a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure and Income and Expense Declaration (FL-141). This is the only document that needs to be signed and filed with the court.
If you are the Petitioner, you have 60 days from the date the Petition was filed to exchange PDODs. If you are the Respondent, you have 60 days from the date the Response was filed to exchange PDODs.
NEGOTIATION/COMING TO TERMS OF DIVORCE
After both parties have an idea of what assets and debts exist, as well as an idea of where each party sits financially, it is time for parties to decide what to do with those assets, to arrange a custody schedule, and figure out the amounts for child and/or spousal support– whichever are applicable to your marriage.
If parties cannot come to an agreement to one or more of these issues, this is the time for parties to consider mediation. In mediation, a neutral party will help facilitate a conversation and negotiation on all disputed issues. The benefit of negotiation includes saving money on court costs and filings, getting an earlier date to address these issues, being able to come up with creative solutions on your own terms, and being the ultimate decider.
Otherwise, you may resort to the courts to make decisions on contested issues for you. You can do this by filing a Request for Order “RFO” (FL-300) accompanied by any supporting declarations, exhibits, or subject specific court forms. RFO filing fees are $60, but can address multiple issues at a time, thus eliminating the need to file multiple RFOs for all different issues. These RFOs are usually set out 3-6 months out from the filing date, making it harder to have issues resolved timely. These RFOs may even be postponed and require an Evidentiary Hearing or Trial so the court has enough time to look at all the evidence and make a more informed decision.
FILING JUDGMENT WITH THE COURT
Once all issues have been resolved, it is time to file your Judgment Packet to be processed with the court. When processed, the court will give you a marital termination date and from that point, you will legally be considered “single.”
Documents to include in your Judgment Packet vary depending on the process of your divorce. Most commonly, they include a Judgment form (FL-180), Stipulation and Waiver of Final Declaration of Disclosure form (FL-144), Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation form (FL-170), Marital Settlement Agreement “MSA”, and 2 copies of the Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190) with 2 self addressed stamped envelopes to each of the parties or respective attorneys.
Arguably, the most important document in your Judgment Packet is your MSA. This is your “divorce contract” that details all the terms of your divorce, including custody orders, support orders, and division of assets. This document needs to have page numbers on every page, including any exhibits, have both parties initials on every page, and include both parties signatures and respective attorneys’ signature on the last page. If one or both parties is unrepresented, their signatures on the last page must be notarized.
When filing with the court, be sure to file at least 3 copies, including the original, with the court. This will leave one for the court and one for both parties. Judgment processing times can vary.
When processed, be sure to request a Certified Copy of your Divorce Decree to do any name changes. A court-stamped copy is not a Certified Copy. Certified Copies have a special court seal marking the authenticity of the document. The fee for the Certified Copy is $15.