Until you’ve decided to get divorced, odds are you aren’t familiar with the process. We’ve all seen dramatic divorces play out in the public eye—everything from trial separations to custody agreements are somewhat familiar terms to most people.
But everything changes when you’re the one getting divorced. Suddenly you realize, you have no idea how to navigate the California courts or fill out the piles of paperwork required. You’ll also come to find every CA county has different processes and requirements.
Here at Bansmer Law, we’re experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorneys. Read on to learn every step of the divorce process in San Joaquin County.
The San Joaquin County Divorce Process Step-by-Step
The divorce process in San Joaquin County, CA breaks down to 6 major steps:
1. Make sure you or your spouse meet CA’s residency requirements.
You have to confirm your eligibility for divorce before you can do anything else. In CA, this boils down a residency requirement.
Basically, at least one person in your marriage or domestic partnership must have resided in the state of California for the past six months and in the county you’re filing for at least 3 months. Until one of you meets these thresholds, you can’t file for divorce anywhere in CA.
2. File the petition with the court.
Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the residency laws, it’s time to formally file divorce papers with a San Joaquin County court. You don’t need any info or signatures from your spouse for this step.
If you’re hoping for a DIY divorce, all forms can be found on the California courts website. When you hire an expert San Joaquin County divorce lawyer, they’ll help you fill out everything properly.
The petition covers mostly basic information. It’s crucial that you be completely honest while doing the paperwork—if you’re found to have hidden anything down the road, the court can penalize you financially.
Fill out your divorce papers and bring them to a court clerk. They’ll review everything for errors and missing details. If it all looks to be in order, the clerk will stamp your paperwork with the time and date. They’ll provide you with copies.
3. Serve paperwork to your spouse.
As the initiator of your divorce, you become the “petitioner” and your spouse becomes the “respondent.” These labels simply identify who files paperwork and who files responses.
As the petitioner, you’re legally required to notify your spouse. But you can’t just leave the paperwork on the coffee table and call it good. An adult other than yourself—called a “server”—must hand-deliver a copy of your filed documents to your spouse.
Then, the server files their own document with the court. This officially records that your spouse has been made aware of you filing divorce paperwork.
4. See what kind of a response, if any, your spouse files.
By law, your spouse has 30 days to file what’s called a “response” with the court. This involves completing a set of forms similar to what you’ve already filled out. They’ll file the paperwork with a court clerk just like you did.
It’s also possible that your spouse won’t file a response at all, for any number of reasons. When this happens, they lose the right to voice their preferences on things like custody, division of property, and child/spousal support. You and your lawyer will tell the court, in writing, how you’d like things split up.
Then the court makes the final call on who gets what. But if your spouse does file a response, you’ll start negotiating in Step 5.
5. Resolve the distribution of your assets and child custody.
Coming to an agreement at this stage can go one of several ways:
- Through mediation, with attorneys and a mediator
- Negotiating one-on-one with your spouse outside of court
- Going to trial and presenting everything before a judge
- Collaborating amongst yourselves, your attorneys, and other selected professionals to create a bespoke solution everyone agrees on
The last option mentioned—collaborative divorce— is often very expensive because it requires hiring a full team of professionals, which you and your spouse split the costs for. But the fees associated with a DIY divorce can sneak up on you, too.
The path you and your spouse take to reach an agreement will depend on how amicable you are at this stage. Due to the bitterness and emotional baggage that often come with a divorce, many couples have no choice but to present everything before a judge.
6. Obtain your final judgment.
Now that everything has been divided—either through negotiation or by appearing in court—your divorce will be finalized.
First, a judge reviews your case to ensure all paperwork is filed properly. They’ll also review details of your negotiations to make sure everything is in order and accounted for.
Once the review process is completed, you’ll receive what’s called your final judgment. This includes the official date your marriage is dissolved. At this point, you are now legally and officially divorced.
Do you have to go to court for divorce in San Joaquin County?
- Negotiating a settlement with your spouse
- Undergoing official mediation with lawyers and a neutral mediator
- Collaborative divorce, which starts with a joint agreement not to litigate
But even if you never set foot in a courtroom, hiring a California divorce attorney is a smart move. Whether you and your spouse agree on an out-of-court settlement or go through a mediator, your assets are still on the line.
A settlement and mediation both require discussion and negotiations. For most people, this is hard to do with all the other divorce-related stressors on their mind. Trying to fairly negotiate custody and division of property is very challenging, since you’re also focused on finalizing everything ASAP.
So while you aren’t required to appear in court for your divorce, hiring a focused and aggressive CA divorce lawyer is always a good idea.
Do you have to be separated before divorce in California?
But there are other laws at play you should know about. Either you or your spouse must have lived in CA for the past 6 months, and in your current CA county for the past 3 months.
The last thing to know if that by law, your divorce can’t be finalized for at least 6 months from the date you file divorce papers. This is known as the “waiting period.”
Do you need a lawyer for divorce in California?
A skilled San Joaquin County divorce lawyer protects your best interests and prevents unfair negotiations. You should also keep in mind the mountains of paperwork you need to fill out—even if you and your spouse are amicable about splitting up.
Missing a single form or making a single mistake in your divorce proceedings can be costly. The court fees alone for re-filing and making corrections pile up fast, not to mention how much of your time a DIY divorce can eat up.
Were you unaware of a single detail mentioned above out the divorce process in San Joaquin County, CA? If so, an experienced and talented California divorce lawyer can save you quite a bit of time and hassle.
Contact us today for more information about getting a divorce in San Joaquin County, CA and how to protect yourself. Just call us at (209) 474-2400 to get started.