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Divorce/dissolution
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This page tells you about how to file for a divorce, legal separation or nullity. Divorce can be complicated. We encourage you to talk to a family law lawyer so you will know about your legal rights and the legal issues in your case.

On this website when we refer to divorce (also called "dissolution") the same instructions will often apply in legal separation and nullity cases, too. We will use the term "divorce" to refer to all 3 types of cases and point out differences.

A legal separation is a case where you will get a judgment that settles all the issues in your case, just like a divorce judgment does, except that you will still be married to your spouse when the case is finalized.

A nullity (sometimes referred to as an "annulment") is a case where if you get a judgment, it is as if you and the other party were never married. Nullities are rare and unusual, and the laws about when they can be granted are very specific.

This page gives you information on:

  1. Options for handling your divorce case
  2. Forms
  3. Fees
  4. How to File
  5. Getting Court Orders
  6. Financial Disclosures
  7. Help Coming to an Agreement - Mediation and Collaborative Law
  8. How to Finish Your Case

Also see Family Law Frequently Asked Questions, including how to get copies of a divorce case file, how to dismiss a Family Law case, and other helpful information.

Families Change

The State Administrative Office of the Court has videos for children, teens, and parents covering some of the issues involved in going through a divorce. See Families Change - Your Guide to Separation and Divorce.

  1. Options for handling your divorce case
     
    • Ask a lawyer to help you. You can look for a lawyer in the phone book or call the Lawyer Referral Service of the Santa Clara County Bar Association . Many lawyers have reasonable fees for your first consultation. Know your rights before you finish your divorce or you may lose those rights forever.

    • Do it yourself with help from the Self-Help Center/ Family Law Facilitator’s Office.
      • They can help you fill out your forms at their workshops. Please read the flier to make sure the workshop fits your situation. Click to visit the Self-Help Workshop web page and read the flyer about the Divorce workshops.
      • In circumstances where the workshop isn’t a fit for your situation they may be able to help you with the forms at the Self-Help Center.
      • The Self-Help Center has fliers with legal information and form samples for people who are handling their own divorces.

    • Do it yourself.
      • Download forms from the internet - see the forms section below for links to state and local forms.
      • Most libraries have copies of self-help divorce books.
      • You can buy self-help divorce books and legal forms at most book stores or online. The books often have all the forms you need. Remember: the forms change regularly. You can get the most current forms from the internet - see state forms on the Judicial Council website  and local forms on this website. The Self-Help Center also has a flyer on How to Get Forms .

    Resources:

    The following laws and rules apply to family law cases:

  2. Forms:

    What forms you need depends on several factors, for example, if you both agree, if you have children, if you have things to divide. Here are links to the forms you will need:

    The Self-Help Center also has a flyer on How to Get Forms .

  3. Fees:

    You will have to pay fees to file your forms with the Clerk's Office. See filing fees on the local fee schedule . If your income is low you can apply to not pay the fees. See the fee waiver information page.



  4. How to File and Serve

    Click here for instructions about how to file and serve your divorce forms .

    When you file your divorce forms the court will assign you a Case Status Conference date about 4 months out. That’s a date where your Judge or court staff will review your case with you and make sure you’re on track to finish.

  5. Getting Court Orders

    If you need to talk to the Judge to ask him or her to make orders in your case, click on the following links for information:

  6. Visit the Self-Help Workshop web page to see if there is a workshop where you can get help with the forms.

  7. Financial Disclosures

    Declarations of Disclosure: The law says you must give your husband or wife information about your income, expenses, things you own and money you owe (even if you do not own anything or owe any money!). This is called “disclosure.”

    The first disclosure you make is called the “Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure.” You have to do this before you can finish your divorce.

    You also have to make a second, final disclosure or you and the other party can waive the final disclosure (sign an agreement that says you don’t need to do it because you’ve kept each other informed about your finances).

    Drop-in help is available for these forms on the second Friday of the month at the Sunnyvale Courthouse, Dept. 81, at 1:30 pm (subject to change).

  8. Help Coming to an Agreement - Mediation and Collaborative Law

    Mediation

    If you and your spouse think you can come to an agreement about some or all of the issues in your case, consider mediation. Mediation is voluntary. A neutral person (called a mediator) helps the parties come to an agreement on the issues in your case.


    Advantages of mediation

    • You and your spouse can come up with an agreement that works best for your family.
    • You and your spouse are both in control of the process and how quickly you finish your case
    • The mediation process can be confidential
    • Your agreement can be as detailed as you need and can deal with your specific needs and concerns
    • Your agreement can be more creative and include all the issues that are important to you
    • There is little court involvement, and
    • People are more likely to follow the terms of a mediated agreement than a court-imposed order.

    There are free mediation services in Family Court :

    • To mediate about custody and parenting timeshare (“visitation”) you can work with a mediator from Family Court Services.
    • To mediate about your property, child support or spousal support you can work with the Court’s Settlement Officer.

    You can also hire a private mediator. There is a fee to do private mediation. See the list of family mediators on the Family Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) page on this website. You can also look up "Attorneys-Mediation" in the yellow pages of your phone book or contact the Santa Clara County Bar Association .

    Collaborative Law

    Collaborative law is another way of resolving your divorce without going to court. It is similar to mediation, but each party has a lawyer. Everyone agrees not to go to court except in the case of certain kinds of emergencies. If you are interested in this approach, contact the Santa Clara County Bar Association  and ask for the collaborative law panel.

  9. How to Finish Your Case

    You will not automatically be divorced. You must complete and file the necessary court forms to get your divorce judgment.

    AVOID REJECTED JUDGMENT FORMS! Check out the Family Law Judgment Checklist . This will help you turn in the right forms to get a judgment in your divorce case.

    How your case is finished depends mainly on whether a Response was filed or not
    AND
    Whether you and your husband or wife agree.

    You can get a judgment by:  

    • Default (when the other party does not file a Response),
    • Written agreement (a Response was filed and you agree), or
    • Trial (a Response was filed and you don’t agree)

    You cannot finish your divorce just by filing a Request for Order (also called a "Motion") and getting a court hearing.

    Default: If the other party does not file a Response to the divorce papers ("defaults"), then you can get a default judgment. For help finishing your divorce this way:

    Written agreement: If you and your husband or wife have an agreement on all issues in your divorce (uncontested), you can write up and file your agreement along with the required legal forms. For help:

    Trial: If a Response has been filed in your case and you and the other party disagree, and/or the other party is not cooperating or participating in your case, you can ask the court to set the case for trial to finalize the case.

    Divorce trials do not resolve custody and parenting time issues. Those issues are resolved through a different process. See our custody and visitation web page.

    If you cannot come to an agreement outside of court, a judge will decide the issues in your case at a trial. If this is your case, you should talk to a lawyer.  A family law attorney can tell you about important legal rights and may be able represent you in trial, if you want.

    Here are the steps you need to take to finish your case by trial:

    Step 1
    : "Request for Trial": Fill out and file the Request for Trial form . Click here for instructions .

    Before coming to Court, fill out a Status or Case Resolution Conference Questionnaire . See page 2 of the form for instructions about filing and service.

    Step 2: Your "Status or Case Resolution Conference": The Status or Case Resolution Conference  will be a chance to tell your Judge which issues you still do not agree about and for the Judge and/or court staff to review your case. You may be referred to one or more Alternative Dispute Resolution services, such as Orientation/Mediation, Early Neutral Evaluation or a Settlement Officer Conference, that can help you resolve custody and parenting time, support and property issues. (See the Family Law flyer on Alternative Dispute Resolution .) Refer to the Family Law Process page for an overview diagram of the case flow.

    Step 3: Mandatory Settlement Conference: If the Judge sends you to a Mandatory Settlement Conference, you must prepare a Settlement Conference Statement. This statement gives a detailed and thoroughly documented explanation of your issue(s). You must type this pleading in proper legal form. See Local Family Rule 6 to make sure you do it correctly. There is no standard or Judicial Council form available for this.

    When you go to your Mandatory Settlement Conference, a Judge Pro Tempore will work with you to settle your case. You may be able to reach a full agreement that day.

    If your case is one of the very few that goes to trial, your Judge will tell you which issues will be heard at trial, how long you will get to present your case, and which witnesses will be allowed. You must follow the trial policies of the department where your trial is scheduled.

    Step 4: Judgment: Whether you come to an agreement outside of court, at one of the court proceedings, or if your case is heard and decided by a Judge, you must prepare Judgment forms for the Judge to sign. Please refer to the Judgment checklist  for the forms you need to fill out and file in a default or uncontested case. If you have a trial, the Judgment made will be written up on most of the forms listed in the “Uncontested Case” section on page 4 (form FM-1052 ) even though the case is contested.

    For help:

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