SmartLaw: Attorney and Lawyer Referral Service. Divorce, bankruptcy, criminal, accident, business
The Los Angeles County Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service, the largest and oldest such service in the United States, has hundreds of pre-screened, qualified and insured lawyers in the Los Angeles area who can help you with your legal issues. Contact us now and our courteous, professionally trained staff will help you connect you with the right lawyer. The LRIS is a nonprofit public service of LACBA.

# 511 Simple divorce procedures

mp3 #511 Simple Divorce Procedure (mp3 file)

Family Law matters are very complex. Many who try to handle these matters on their own quickly find themselves overwhelmed and out of favor with the courts. Often times costs are cited as the reason for self representation. However, most people with assets and retirement plans stand to lose significant amounts of money, or worse, lose their children if they are not properly represented. Continue here to be referred to an experienced and insured Family Law attorney:


California has a law which allows a married couple to get a divorce simply, and without even appearing in court. A lawyer is not required. It takes six months and one day for your divorce to become final. This law is called the "summary dissolution law," because "dissolution" is the legal word for "divorce" in California.

This method is shorter and easier than a regular divorce, but not everyone can use the simpler method. Briefly, this divorce procedure is possible only for couples for whom the following is true at the time you file:

-- who have no children together,

-- who have been married for 5 years or less (date of marriage to today),

-- who don't own very much,

-- who don't owe very much money, and

-- who agree about how their belongings and their debts are going to be divided up, once they are no longer married to each other.


The procedure is carried out by filling out the following forms: first, a joint petition for summary dissolution of marriage; second, from each party, a preliminary declaration of disclosure, including worksheets that describe your property, and income and expense forms; and third, proof of service that each party has received the others' preliminary declaration of disclosure and related forms. If you own no more than the permitted amount of property, you may also need a property settlement agreement. Both husband and wife must sign and file the petition at the office of the clerk of the superior court. After the required six-month waiting period – during which either you or your spouse can stop the process if you change your mind -- you may apply for and receive a final divorce. You will need to file a request for final judgment at the end of the six-month waiting period. Court filing fees are over $200.00. If you are very poor, you may qualify for a waiver of fees by the court. In order to have your fees waived by the court you must apply for a waiver of fees on a court form, which can be purchased at very little cost from the court clerk.

How do you know if you can use the summary dissolution procedure to get a divorce? In order to qualify, all of the following statements must be true about you at the time you first file for your divorce. Even if only one of these statements is not true for you, you cannot use this procedure. Listen very carefully to the list, which includes only the more important requirements:

1. Either husband or wife has been a resident of California for the past six months and of the county where they are filing for at least three months.

2. The marriage should end because of serious differences between husband and wife.

3. There are no children of this relationship born before or during the marriage, no children have been adopted during this marriage, and wife is not pregnant.

4. The time between marriage and when the papers are filed to start this dissolution is not over five years.

5. Neither husband nor wife owns any part of any land, house or building.

6. Except for any loan, husband and wife owe less than $5,000 in bills accumulated during the marriage.

7. Except for cars,

(A) What husband and wife accumulated during the marriage is worth less than $25,000, and

(B) Neither husband nor wife owns more than $25,000 each in other assets.

8. Husband and wife must file a disclosure of all their assets and debts with the court before the court can grant the dissolution; and husband and wife have agreed, in writing, how they want their assets and debts divided between them, and have signed all papers needed to complete the division.

9. Husband and wife give up the right to alimony forever.

10. Husband and wife give up their right to appeal the judgment or ask for a new trial.

11. Husband and wife have read and understand the summary dissolution brochure.

12. Husband and wife want the court to dissolve the marriage.

Further details are available in a booklet, called, "summary dissolution information". This booklet is in both English and Spanish, and is available from the clerk's office in the superior court in each county in California. You are required to read and understand this booklet, before you are permitted to file for this type of divorce.

The booklet will explain the meaning of such legal terms as "community property," and "separate property" and "community debts." It will explain the important differences between summary dissolution and regular dissolution. It will show you how to figure out the fair market value of your possessions, and the amount of your debts. It will show you sample worksheets, and a sample property settlement agreement. It will list each step for you to follow, in order to get a divorce the summary dissolution way.

If you wish to look up the statute itself, it is found in the California family code, beginning at section 2400 through section 2406. This code is available at your local law library, and at some public libraries.

Although a lawyer is not required to get this type of divorce, you may find it helpful to consult an attorney before you decide to do it yourself. The information booklet is not intended to take the place of a lawyer. An attorney can advise you, on the basis of your personal situation, whether you ought to use the regular dissolution procedure rather than the summary dissolution. If you decide to use the summary dissolution procedure, a lawyer can help you to work out your property settlement agreement, if you need one, so that nothing important is forgotten or misunderstood, and to make sure that the agreement is in words that are legally precise, and will not be challenged or misinterpreted later on.

If you do not have an attorney, you may contact the lawyer referral service of your local county bar association for an attorney who is qualified to help you obtain a divorce or dissolution of your marriage.

For a list of legal services agencies in Los Angeles County that serve low-income people with family law matters, view SmartLaw Message #108

Back to Top