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:
- Options for handling your divorce case
- How to File
- Getting Court Orders
- Financial Disclosures
- Help Coming to an Agreement - Mediation and Collaborative Law
- How to Finish Your Case
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 Fridays at 1:45 pm at the Self-Help Center. Times may change due to staffing issues.
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 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.
|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
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.
- Hire a lawyer or
- Visit the Self-Help Center/Family Law Facilitator Office or
- Read a Self-Help book about what you need to do
- Click here for more information: How to Finish a Divorce by Default
- Read the Family Law Judgment Checklist . It lists the forms you need to finish your case by default.
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:
- Hire an attorney or attorney-mediator to write it up for you, or
- Visit the Self-Help Center/Family Law Facilitator Office. Just know that the Self-Help Center doesn’t help with dividing community or separate assets or debts (things you own or owe), or
- Read a Self-Help book, or
- Click here for more information: Ways to finish your case when a Response has been filed flyer
- Read the Family Law Judgment Checklist . It lists the forms you need to finish your case by agreement.
- NOTE: A nullity case cannot be completed by agreement. Visit the Self-Help Center or see a private attorney for more information.
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.
- Talk with a lawyer, or
- Visit the Self-Help Center/Family Law Facilitator Office for help or referrals, or
- Read a Self-Help book.