Collaborative Practice San Francisco

Three Legal Steps Required for Divorce in California


Thinking about divorce? Know the legal steps you need to take.

One of the first questions you may have if you’re thinking about divorce is “Do I have to go to court?” 

The answer is “No” so long as you can reach agreement with your spouse about how you’re going to divide your property and debts; how you’re each going to pay your living expenses going forward; and, if you have children, how you’re going to share parenting time and contribute to their support. You may be able to reach agreement on your own or with the help of professionals through mediation or collaborative divorce. If so, you don’t ever need to set foot inside a courtroom (something many people would prefer to avoid!), but you still need to complete the following three legal steps to get divorced.

Step 1. Start your case with the court and give your spouse notice.

The first step in the legal process of divorce in California is to file the required initial forms with the court in your county and then to serve these documents on your spouse. To “serve” means to have another adult give the papers to your spouse in the proper legal way. The two main initial forms are the Petition (form FL-100) and Summons (form FL-115). Page 2 of the Summons lists important Standard Family Law Restraining Orders regarding your assets, insurance, and your children that both you and your spouse need to follow while the divorce case is pending. Once your spouse has been served with all of the required forms, you need to file a Proof of Service of Summons (form FL-115).

This first step starts your case with the court and gives your spouse proper notice of the legal proceedings. The earliest you can be divorced is six months and one day from the date your spouse was served with the Petition and Summons.

Your spouse can then decide whether or not to file a Response (form FL-120). See “Options to Respond” at

All of the California Judicial Council forms can be found online at and some counties have additional required forms that can be found on each court’s website. 


Step 2: Exchange your financial information.

The second step in the legal process is for you and your spouse to exchange financial information. There are three forms that make up your Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure: the Declaration of Disclosure (form FL-140), Income and Expense Declaration (form FL-150), and Schedule of Assets and Debts (form FL-142). You attach copies of pay statements, account statements, and other financial documents to the forms, and you also exchange all tax returns filed by either of you in the past two years. These financial documents are not filed with the court. You do each need to file a Declaration Regarding Service (form FL-141) with the court showing that the disclosures were exchanged.


Step 3: Prepare and submit your settlement agreement and judgment paperwork.

The third step in the legal process is to prepare a written settlement agreement and the rest of the forms that make up the judgment packet. The settlement agreement describes what you and your spouse have agreed to regarding the division of your assets and debts; spousal support (alimony), if any; and, if you have children, legal custody, parenting time, and child support. A mediator or family law attorney can help you with preparing the settlement agreement. There is no form for this. Usually, the signed settlement agreement is submitted to the court as an attachment to the Judgment (form FL-180). There are also a number of other forms that need to be completed and sent to the court as part of the judgment packet. See Judgment Checklist (form FL-182). Once all of your paperwork is submitted to the court, it will be reviewed by a clerk, sent to the judge for signature, and filed, and copies will be returned to you. The Judgment will show the date that marital status is terminated, meaning your divorce is final and you are legally single again.

Of course, this article provides just a brief overview of the three main legal steps you need to complete to get a divorce in California. There are a lot of forms, and they can be intimidating! If you have questions, contact the Family Law Facilitator’s Office or Self-Help Center at your local court, or consult with a family law attorney or mediator who can help you reach agreement with your spouse and prepare all of the necessary paperwork.



WHERE: The San Francisco Jewish Community Center, 3200 California Street, San Francisco, CA.

WHEN: Saturdays in 2019 from 9:30am-12:30pm on:  
April 6, May 4, June 1, July 6, August 3, September 7, October 5, November 2, December 7.

COST: $45 – pre-registration is not necessary – just show up.

A divorce attorney, a divorce financial specialist and a mental health professional will co-present a discussion of the four basic divorce process choices and their frequent variations and how to protect yourself legally, financially and emotionally. A divorce attorney will present a legal overview of the divorce process, a financial advisor will show you how to prepare for divorce financially, and discuss the financial and tax implications of property division and support and a mental health professional will talk about how you and your family can better cope with the stress of divorce, including strategies for communicating effectively, for rebuilding self-esteem and for insulating your children from the conflict.





Yes, it is possible to divorce wisely.wise man divorce

In our culture, we think of divorce as a war, and, like good soldiers, we start gathering up our weapons and our armor.  In divorce, as in war, though, it’s best to take a step back and think like a commander-in-chief instead of a foot soldier…or even a general.

The foot soldier has a right to be scared. It’s her life on the line, and she’s not in charge. She has to go wherever her superiors send her, with the equipment they provide. Because it’s her survival at stake, she prepares to lie, cheat and steal, to bite, kick and stab. Her goal is to kill instead of being killed, and to live through the next hour.

The general stands on the top of the hill above the battleground, so he can see the terrain. He sends out scouts to figure out exactly where the enemy is positioned and, if possible, he sends spies to try to figure out what the enemy is thinking. His goal is to win the battle and he’s aware he’ll have to sacrifice many soldiers to achieve this goal.

The wise commander-in-chief, though, has an even longer view. She’s not thinking so much of the battle as the war, and not so much of the war as the peace that will hopefully follow. And she knows that the uglier the war, the harder it will be and the longer it will take to achieve that peace which is her ultimate goal. She wants the soldiers on both sides to relax, to stand down, to stop wasting resources and start being productive citizens once again. So, if there’s a chance to parley, if there’s any way to find out what the enemy wants and how to give it to them without sacrificing her own values, she will go for it. In every decision she makes, she’s thinking, “Will this bring us closer to peace?”

It’s an all-too-human response to enter divorce like a foot soldier. We feel threatened and our bodies automatically jump to a defend and attack mindset. It can help to take a breath, to think beyond the next hour, the next day. What is your goal? Where do you want to be ten years from now? Would you like your family to be at peace? Do you want to look back on the divorce knowing that you acted wisely, and with respect and integrity?

If the answer is yes, if you’d like to figure out how to have a negotiation instead of a war, then the first step is to gather information.

 The Divorce Options Class, offered by Collaborative Divorce California at several locations throughout the state, is designed to help couples and individuals to understand the complex choice they’ll have to make at the very beginning of this journey: which process to choose for how to divorce. Every family situation is different. Having the information you need to figure out how to make a good decision is…very wise indeed.

Beth Proudfoot, LMFT

What are the Benefits? What are the Challenges?

Thinking about divorce? Know your divorce options.

Using the divorce mediation process option provides couples with tools to settle their differences rather than fighting in a court of law. Divorce mediation is facilitated by one or more neutral mediators who help define the issues, encourage out-of-the-box thinking, guide the information gathering and analyses, generate choices and allow couples to come to agreement together on the terms of divorce.

There are several benefits to divorce mediation:

  • RESPECTFUL: Divorce mediators are neutral facilitators who focus on respectful discussions to find creative solutions and agreements that benefit the both spouses as well extended family. Mediation promotes interest-based decision-making, supports solutions that the couple finds acceptable and focuses on what’s really important.

  • DURABLE: Creating agreements together means those agreements are more likely to be kept. Studies have shown that mutually agreed-upon child and/or spousal payments are more than likely to be paid. Non-adversarial approaches like mediation tend to foster continuing relationships and improve co-parenting plans in which the children’s best interests tend to be kept in mind and provides a model for resolution of any future disputes.

  • EQUITABLE: In mediation, neither spouse can claim victory at the expense of the other spouse because resolutions are created by and acceptable to both spouses. And, although few couples feel divorce is “fair”, the divorce mediation process supports settlement terms that are “fairly” negotiated and mutually agreed to.

  • PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL: In a traditional adversarial divorce, everything submitted to the court is part of the public record. In mediation, however, no one has to know what is being said and documented except the couple and mediator.

  • VOLUNTARY: Mediation is a kinder process that supports conscious choices when dissolving their marriage and allows the couple to create solutions that meet their needs on their own terms rather than the court treating the couple like a case file or cold docket number.

  • AFFORDABLE: Divorce mediation usually costs significantly less than a lawyer-driven divorce because the couple controls the pace of the mediation.

  • TIMELY: The pace of the mediation process is controlled by the couple instead of the schedules of the lawyers or the court and is typically a shorter process that traditional litigation.

Although the benefits of mediation are significant, there are several challenges to consider:

  • ADVOCACY: If one spouse tends to dominate the other spouse to the point where power is unbalanced, an advocate for the weaker spouse may be useful in helping the couple come to an equitable resolution. The couple may not be able to negotiate effectively but mediators do not represent or advocate for either person.

  • COMFORT: Either spouse may not be comfortable in the same room with their spouse whether because there has been a history of coercive control or intimate partner violence.

  • CANNOT COMPEL: A mediator cannot work any harder than the divorcing couple. During the mediation process, a mediator cannot force either spouse to make decisions, keep commitments or meet deadlines for completing tasks even though mediation agreements are as legally enforceable as traditional litigated agreements.


WHERE: The San Francisco Jewish Community Center, 3200 California Street, SF

WHEN: Saturdays in 2019 from 9:30am-12:30pm on:  
March 2, April 6, May 4, June 1, July 6, August 3, September 7, October 5, November 2, December 7  

COST: $45 – pre-registration is not necessary – just show up.

A divorce attorney, a divorce financial specialist and a mental health professional will co-present a discussion of all the different process choices that are available and how to protect yourself legally, financially and emotionally. A divorce attorney will present a legal overview of the divorce process, a financial advisor will show you how to prepare for divorce, and discuss the financial and tax implications of property division and support and a mental health professional will talk about how you and your family can better cope with the stress of divorce, including strategies for communicating effectively, for rebuilding self-esteem and for insulating your children from the conflict.

Read more about Divorce Options™ workshops

Written by DON BLYTHE


By Beth Proudfoot, LMFT

Respectful Divorce -- for some that may sound like an oxymoron. But people who have been married for twenty years or more are often searching for a way to divorce peacefully, with respect and dignity…and even hugs or handshakes after negotiating a fair settlement for both spouses.

Sometimes the challenge is that friends and family egg on the conflict. They’ll suggest that, “You need to hire a Shark!” or tell divorce horror stories such as, “My friend Sam lost EVERYTHING.” The search for a process that is kind, thoughtful, and respectful seems impossible. But there is a way!

Collaborative Divorce is a better way to untie the knot. Your financial issues may be complex, or emotions may be high. One or both spouses could be feeling so angry, hurt, or betrayed they have a hard time thinking or communicating clearly. The Collaborative Divorce process gives couples the support they need and can deliver the kind of divorce settlement that breaks the odds and doesn’t break the bank.

Many family law attorneys these days are calling themselves “collaborative,” meaning that they work with other attorneys with integrity to come as close as possible to a win-win solution. Collaborative Divorce is something quite different. It’s an alternative dispute resolution process which requires special training and experience that involves professionals from different disciplines all working together. These professionals include divorce financial analysts and mental health/communication coaches in addition to family law attorneys They are all members of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals which is a clear indication of their commitment to the Collaborative Divorce process. There is a strict code of ethics and structured protocols which have been proven to work to help couples to communicate effectively and develop creative win/win solutions for the entire family.

Collaborative Divorce may not be for everyone. Some divorcing spouses need the protection of court orders. Some estates are so basic, and some communication challenges are so minor that couples can do the divorce themselves with help from online resources or mediate with a single skilled mediator. However, when feelings are bitter, trust is low, the estate has lots of moving pieces, AND both parties have no interest in starting a war, Collaborative Divorce may be the answer. For more information or to find a San Francisco Collaborative Divorce Professional, visit our Professional Listings.

Beth Proudfoot, LMFT practices in the San Francisco Bay area. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who offers services as a collaborative divorce coach, a child specialist, a mediator, and parenting coach.

About CPSF

Collaborative Practice San Francisco is a group of professionals interested in avoiding court battles and power struggles to resolve conflicts. Our group is a multi-disciplinary, multi-field group open to all professionals interested in Collaborative conflict resolution. Read more...

Will CP work for me?

If the following values are important to you, it is likely to be a workable option:

  • I want us to communicate with a tone of respect.
  • I want to prioritize the needs of our children.
  • My needs and those of my spouse/partner require equal consideration, and I will listen objectively.

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