Filing for divorce in California can seem more complex and expensive than it actually is. The truth is that what makes divorces expensive (and virtually impossible for some) is the thousands and thousands of dollars that legal representation cost (i.e paying a lawyer to do the entire process on your behalf).

While it does save you time and gives you a feeling of security, a lawyer’s intervention isn’t really necessary during the better part of the divorce process; in fact, his presence can actually be dispensable when the divorce is getting done in good terms and there’s an agreement between the parties.

But even if there isn’t, you can still save a good deal of money by starting the divorce process on your own, and we’re talking about thousands in lawyer fees, which will come in handy in case you do need legal representation on the latter stages of the divorce process.

So, if you want to start your own divorce without lawyers, these are the 4 steps you must follow:

Step 1: Gather and fill out the necessary legal forms.

The first thing you need to do is gather the correct legal forms you need for your petition. The forms change depending on your situation. For example, if you have underage children you are going to need a specific form regarding custody. Here you can find all the available forms:

Note: Some local courts (which is the place you’ll file your petition for divorce) request that you fill out county-specific forms, if you want to know if your court requires specific local forms, find it here:

Once you select the correct forms, it’s time to fill them out correctly. It’s important to answer carefully and honestly, since doing otherwise could slow or invalidate your request.

It’s in this step where Your Legal Key can help you pick and automatically fill out the forms you need to start your own divorce petition. It’s easy, economical and we guarantee the court will accept your forms.  See how we can help you here:

Step 2: Submitting your documents at Court

Now it’s time to submit your original forms along with copies (print two extra sets, one for you and one for your spouse). If everything is in order, the court clerk will give you the copies stamped with a seal that reads “Filed” and now you’ll have to pay the Filing Fee which is about $435. There are ways to be exempt of this payment, see if you’re eligible here:

Step 3: Serving the documents to your spouse

Once you get your copies with the “Filed” seal, you need to deliver one complete set of your documents personally to your spouse since the judge can’t dictate an order or resolution until the counterpart has been officially notified that the divorce process has begun.

Note: You cannot serve your spouse with the documents. Your spouse needs to be served by someone who isn’t involved in the process; it could be a friend, a relative or a coworker. They only need to be at least 18 years old and can’t be taking part in the case.

When the service is complete, you will have to file the proof of service with the court clerk so that the court is aware of service on your spouse and the 30 days your spouse has to answer starts counting. You can find more information about legal service here:

Step 4: Fill out and serve your financial disclosure forms

Now that the divorce petition is officially on its way, all you have to do is to serve your spouse with a financial disclosure in which all you own and owe, as well as your income and expenses, is revealed. This is known as a “Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure”.

This declaration isn’t filed with the court clerk, but rather served to the spouse in the same way as step no. 3.

Once the delivery has been made, you do present in court a form called the “Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure”, which certifies you already informed your partner about your financial situation and now all that’s required is a proper response to court from your spouse.

Note: It’s very important that you’re honest in your disclosure because if you don’t reveal a property in your documents, either purposely or accidentally, the agreed property distribution could be cancelled and the court could order that any non-declared property be transferred to your spouse. So, remember to file the right forms, plus your tax declarations from the last two years. You can see which forms you need to submit here:


With these 4 steps the divorce process can be considered formally started. How easily and fast you divorce gets finished will depend on the counterpart’s answer and the fact that you reach (or don’t) an agreement about property distribution and child custody, if applicable. In case there isn’t an agreement, you could need the professional assistance that a lawyer can provide, but if you took advantage of starting the legal process on your own, you would have saved a good sum of money that you’ll now be able to invest in the final phase of your divorce process.

Find out how we can help you get your divorce started online hereFamily Law