Are You Eligible for an Uncontested Divorce?
California is a no-fault divorce state. This means that any person can file for divorce without providing “grounds” for the divorce (such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment). In many cases, couples may seek a divorce on the grounds that their marriage is beyond repair ("irreconcilable differences”).
If you’re preparing to file for divorce in California, you may be wondering which route to take. To make an informed decision, it’s important to understand the differences between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorces in California
Unlike a contested divorce, in which couples rely on the court’s facilitation and intervention to establish a divorce agreement and related terms, an uncontested divorce means that a couple agrees on all divorce-related aspects, allowing them to settle on divorce terms without enduring formal divorce proceedings in the courtroom.
Keep in mind that reaching a comprehensive agreement with a soon-to-be ex is easier said than done, especially in the event that a couple shares children. While a cheaper, simplified route to divorce can be tempting, it’s still important to examine whether or not an uncontested divorce or DIY (“do it yourself”) divorce is right for you.
Benefits of an Uncontested Divorce
Many couples perceive more advantages of filing for an uncontested divorce, including:
- More cost-effective
- Less time-consuming
- Less likely to result in lasting civil relations
- Less hard on children
- Offers more privacy to families
Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for couples who obtain an uncontested divorce to return to court weeks or months later. Despite the validity of the advantages above, there are certain risks involved in an uncontested divorce, from making procedural errors to overlooking key terms in the divorce agreement.
If your primary motive for an uncontested divorce is to cut financial corners, it may be worth taking more time to consider your options. In some cases, taking the cheapest route possible to finalize your divorce can end up costing you more in the long run.
Eligibility Requirements for Uncontested Divorce in CA
California state laws require certain criteria to be met for couples wishing to obtain an uncontested divorce in California. Requirements include:
- One spouse must have lived in California for at least 6 months and in the county of application for at least 3 months.
- Both spouses must be willing and able to sign all of the required paperwork.
- Both spouses must agree on the settlement of all issues. These include (but aren’t limited to) division of property, asset distribution, spousal support, child support, and child custody.
There are other potential cases in which an uncontested divorce may be granted. For example, if one spouse never responds to the divorce papers or does not appear in court, the petitioner may be granted the divorce on the grounds that it was not contested by the other spouse.
Do I Need a Lawyer for an Uncontested Divorce?
The need for legal representation is dependent on each couple’s unique circumstances. However, it’s crucial to be aware of the potential risks of a DIY divorce. While an uncontested divorce with minimal help may be an effective option for some divorcees, other couples can reap unintended—and undesirable—results.
While forgoing legal representation is your right, it can also result in forgoing your rights. By declining to have a qualified divorce attorney review your divorce contract with a practiced legal eye, a spouse may unintentionally waive certain rights by signing it. They may also overlook key details that can have a direct, unwanted impact on their life.
While hiring an attorney for an uncontested divorce isn’t required and, in some cases, may not be necessary, it’s safe to assume that seeking legal assistance is never a bad idea. For many couples, it can not only save them money in the long run, but ensure that the process is completed as quickly and effectively as possible.
There are some circumstances that almost certainly warrant the inclusion of legal representation for both spouses, including:
- High-value assets in the marriage
- There are children involved in the divorce
- The existence of retirement plans or significant investment accounts
- The existence of outstanding debts
A spouse should consider hiring a trusted attorney if their partner secures legal representation. While it may be tempting to split the cost of a single attorney to facilitate your divorce, this is rarely a good idea. Your spouse’s attorney is legally and ethically obligated to assist your spouse alone, and you cannot count on their lawyer to act or advise with your best interests in mind.
3 Steps to File for Uncontested Divorce in California
To successfully file for divorce, it’s important to adhere to legal guidelines and follow the correct steps. There are two primary avenues to file for an uncontested divorce in California:
- Summary Dissolution. This is the most simplified path to an uncontested divorce. However, certain requirements must be met: the couple must not have any minor children, the marriage duration was less than 5 years, no real estate was involved, neither party will pay alimony, and both parties waive their right to appeal the case.
- Standard Dissolution. If you and your spouse don't meet the requirements for a Summary Dissolution, you may proceed with a standard case for an uncontested divorce.
To proceed with a Standard Dissolution, you and your spouse must follow these steps:
Step 1: Confirm which county you can file in.
Make sure you and your spouse meet residency requirements. At least one spouse must have lived in the county you’re filing in for at least 3 months. One or both spouses must have lived in California for a minimum of 6 months.
Step 2: Fill out the paperwork.
Next, it’s time to complete all required paperwork. This includes two forms:
If you and your spouse share children, you must also complete:
- “Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)” (FL-105)
When completing the paperwork, keep in mind that the spouse filing for divorce is the “Petitioner” while the other is the “Respondent.”
Step 3: Make sure there aren’t additional local forms to complete.
Some counties in California require the submission of additional paperwork. Consider visiting the Self-Help Center online to verify whether this is the case for you.
Compassionate Representation for Families in Need
Regardless of whether you’re ending a marriage on amicable terms, divorce can take its toll on your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. Our firm understands how emotionally exhausting it can be to endure divorce proceedings, as filing for a divorce can expose your family to numerous stressors and have a lasting impact on your life.
This is why Burch Shepard Family Law Group is exclusively committed to practicing family law and serving those in need in Orange County. We have a hard-earned reputation for providing effective legal counsel and customized legal solutions tailored to each family’s unique needs. Rest assured that when you partner with our firm, you’re partnering with a strong legal team who will keep your best interests at heart from start to finish.
Filing for divorce in Orange County? You can count on our trusted legal advisors to guide your steps toward a better tomorrow. Call (949) 565-4158 or contact us online to discuss your case with a skilled divorce attorney.