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How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce in California?

Divorces are challenging even when they are amicable, and being the one to initiate a divorce can be intimidating. You may be trying to decide how to communicate your decision to your partner or thinking through what immediate ramifications there will be for housing, children, and relationships. Finally, you may wonder what the legal process is like for initiating a divorce. Working with a California divorce lawyer can make navigating your divorce less stressful.

Residency Requirements to File for a Divorce

Before initiating a conversation about divorce, it is a good idea to check that you meet the California residency requirements to file. In order to divorce in California, one spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months and within your current county for a minimum of three months.

Basic Steps to Filing for a Divorce

Before discussing the divorce with your spouse, it may be helpful to understand the basic steps of filing. You should be prepared to answer basic questions your spouse has about the process. The easiest way to make sure you are not missing paperwork, forgetting deadlines, or overlooking important questions and processes is to work with a seasoned attorney. This can streamline the divorce process below:

  1. Determine your eligibility to file for a divorce.
  2. Meet with your lawyer to determine when and how to discuss your divorce with your partner.
  3. Discuss the divorce with your partner before serving papers to them, if possible, as it can lead to a more amicable divorce. Otherwise, receiving the summons may be a catalyst for shock and conflict.
  4. Fill out and file the necessary forms, including a summons and petition.
  5. Determine if you need to fill out additional forms, such as a temporary order, fee waiver, etc. Some local courts have additional paperwork you will need to fill out.
  6. Make at least two copies of your forms.

Note that before a divorce can be finalized in California, there is a mandatory waiting period of six months from the time your spouse is served divorce papers. You cannot get divorced without informing your partner, and how long a divorce takes will vary. If you are looking for immediate legal boundaries in your relationship, consider a legal separation, which has no waiting period.

Discuss Various Options With Your Partner

You may already be certain that you want to initiate a divorce, but you should know that legal separation can also be a useful option for certain couples. There are a few things to understand about a legal separation v. a divorce:

  • A legal separation does not dissolve a marriage, whereas a divorce does
  • Legal separations prevent both partners from entering into a new marriage or a domestic partnership
  • Legal separation allows finances, such as spousal insurance benefits, to remain intact

Legal separations are often used by couples who want legal boundaries established between them while they work on their marriage, couples who want to keep certain financial benefits of their marriage from being dissolved, or individuals who do not yet meet residency requirements. If you are open to it, you may want to discuss legal separation as an option with your spouse. You can still get a divorce later by amending your separation to a divorce.

Speaking With an Attorney Before Talking to Your Spouse

While it may feel strange to meet with a divorce lawyer before discussing your desire for a divorce with your spouse, there are many legitimate reasons to do so:

  • If you are in an abusive relationship, whether physically, financially, or emotionally, it is wise to talk with a lawyer before speaking with your spouse. A divorce lawyer can help you create a safety plan in the midst of your divorce. Discuss payment options that will not raise questions from your abusive partner with your lawyer.
  • If your partner has a personality disorder or you are worried about their response when you inform them, then speaking with a seasoned lawyer can help you determine better approaches to informing your spouse and keeping yourself safe.
  • If you are concerned that your partner has more financial power in the relationship, will try to liquidate assets, will run to an attorney, will try to gain more access to your children, or for other reasons, it is usually ideal to first speak with your lawyer.

If you are confident that you and your spouse can handle the conversation about divorce with emotional maturity, it may not be necessary to speak with an attorney first. It is often safer, however, to seek legal counsel before bringing up the divorce with your partner.


Q: What Is the First Thing to Do When Separating or Divorcing?

A: The first step when separating or divorcing is to make sure you are thinking through you and your children’s physical and financial safety, particularly if your partner is volatile. If you do not think these things through and file paperwork accordingly, you may find yourself in an even more difficult place. A divorce lawyer can help you plan how and when to speak with your partner about your divorce.

Q: What Should You Do Before Telling Your Spouse You Want a Divorce?

A: Before telling your spouse you want a divorce, it is wise to prepare. Choose a time when neither of you is distracted, when you feel you can remain calm, when you have privacy, and when you have prepared and practiced what you want to say. Be prepared to listen, to keep a level head, and to handle strong emotions and pointed questions. Meeting with an attorney to make a plan of action for telling your spouse is often a useful way to approach the conversation.

Q: What Not to Do When a Spouse Asks for a Divorce?

A: Make sure that if your spouse asks for a divorce and serves you divorce papers, you do not break the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders. This includes not changing any of your insurance beneficiaries, not giving money away, not taking your children out of state, etc. Most importantly, do not go through the divorce process alone. Instead, find a qualified legal representative who can help you understand your situation and advocate on your behalf.

Q: What Happens When Only One Spouse Wants a Divorce?

A: When only one spouse wants a divorce, this makes things more difficult relationally and can make the process more lengthy and painful. However, it is completely legal for a divorce to occur in California when only one spouse wants one. California has a no-fault divorce system, meaning you have no obligation to demonstrate that your spouse engaged in misconduct to request a divorce.

Finding a Trustworthy California Divorce Lawyer

If you find yourself considering a divorce and are at a loss as to how to proceed, a seasoned divorce attorney can be both a resource and an ally for you. Our team at All American Law wants to help you navigate the process and can help you create a plan for how to inform your partner of your intentions. Reach out to our team today for support.

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