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Couple going through a Divorce in California

5 Facts to Know About Divorce in California

When you get divorced, where you divorce matters. Each state has unique rules that can affect how long the process takes, the paperwork involved, how property is divided, and other matters. An experienced divorce mediator will know your state laws backward and forward and will help guide you through the process. But it is good to enter the divorce process with some knowledge of what to expect. Learn what you need to know about divorce in California.

Here are five facts about divorce in California that can help you prepare for your divorce.

1. No-Fault Divorce

Gone are the days where one spouse had to prove the other spouse had done them wrong. In California, citing “irreconcilable differences” is enough as it is a “no fault” divorce state. You do not have to air private grievances. There are no guilty or innocent parties in the eyes of the state. This policy can help ease tension during your divorce proceedings by helping you focus on the future rather than on past hurts and transgressions.

2. The Six-Month Minimum

In California, your divorce cannot be finalized for at least six months from the date that one spouse or domestic partner files for divorce and serves the other party. Even if you are able to finish the divorce mediation process and file the necessary paperwork faster than six months, California will not finalize the divorce until six months have passed. On the other end, California will drop a divorce case after five years (in some cases less) if not completed.

At South Bay Mediation, we help clients get the initial petition filed as quickly as possible to open their case. Since the petition makes NO decisions, it should be a rather non-controversial step. We then handle serving the other partner discreetly, by mail or in person to “start the clock”. At this point we gather all required financial documentation and begin discussing settlement options informed by legal guidelines as well as the personal concerns of each party. Once parties are fully aware of their rights under California law, they are free to negotiate and make trades or “deals” resulting in an overall agreement that is considered fair by both parties. Once agreement is reached, the final Marital Settlement Agreement is written up, reviewed and approved by both parties, and signed with a notary. All final forms are filed with the court in what’s known as a “judgment package”. The courts typically require 6-8 weeks for processing, at which point they “enter” the judgment and it becomes your final divorce decree.

3. Residency Requirement

To file for divorce in California, you or your spouse must meet certain residency requirements. Either you or your partner must have lived in California for at least the last six months, plus the county where you plan to file for the past three months. If you have lived apart from your spouse in separate counties for more than three months, you may choose to file in either county.

4. Community Property

California is a community property state. This means whatever assets or debts were acquired during the marriage belong to both of you, are considered to be owned or owed in equal measure, and must be split during the divorce. This includes wages and whatever was purchased with those wages. For example, if you purchased a vehicle with funds from your job during the marriage, your spouse still owns 50 percent of it.


Exceptions to this rule are called “separate property” and include property owned prior to the marriage, gifts, inheritance, and money earned from those three exceptions (for example, rent from an inherited house). This is a simplified explanation of what can be a very complex issue. Community and separate property can become commingled and money earned in different states may be treated differently. An experienced divorce mediator can help you sort out such complexities and come to an agreement on how to split the property.

5. Legal Separation

There is also an alternative option n California called a legal separation. It is not a divorce, yet you still make the same types of determinations and agreements as in a divorce, such as splitting property and debt, child or spousal support, and custody agreements. The marriage still exists, so neither spouse may enter another domestic partnership or marriage. Why would a couple choose this route? They may have religious, personal, or financial (such as health insurance) reasons for doing so or they may not yet meet the California residency requirements. In this latter case, the legal separation may be amended later to become a divorce. 


Get Expert Divorce Mediation Services in California

At South Bay Mediation, we have guided more than 500 clients through their divorce proceedings. We have deep knowledge of divorce in California, along with the mediation skills to help you negotiate an agreement that will leave you feeling fairly treated. Contact South Bay Mediation to set up a call to learn more today or request a free consultation.

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