Divorce, Separation & Annulment
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. This section gives you information on:
- Options for handling your divorce case
- Referral resources
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 Alameda County Bar Association. Many lawyers have reasonable fees for your first consultation. (See Referral Resources, below.)
- Do it yourself
You can buy self-help divorce books and legal forms at book stores, stationery stores or printing companies. Most of the books have all the forms you need. Remember: The forms change often. You must use the most current forms.
- Download forms from the internet.
- Download the Alameda County Superior Court Local Rules for Family Law
- Get a self-help divorce book
- Download the California Family Code.
- Review the Divorce section of the California Courts Self-Help Center
- Visit the Self-Help Center at one of the courthouses throughout Alameda County
- Contact the Family Law Facilitator
- Hire a Legal Document Preparer to complete the paperwork for you
We cannot recommend a lawyer or legal document preparer service but here are resources to help you find a lawyer or legal document preparer for your case:
- Look for a lawyer in the phone book, on the web, or call the Lawyer Referral Service of the Alameda County Bar Association
- Look for a legal document preparer service in the phone book
- Family Law Facilitator
Divorce can be a complicated process. The forms you need depends on whether you and your spouse agree to the divorce or not. Here are links to the forms you may need:
All of the State forms are available from the Judicial Council web site. Choose the "Family Law - Dissolution/Legal Separation/Annulment" option on that page from the dropdown box.
You will have to pay fees to file your forms with the court's Clerk's Office. Click here to see the fee schedule. You may qualify for a fee waiver if your income is low.
- If you and your spouse have reached an agreement or think you can come to an agreement about some or all of the issues in your case, consider using mediation.
Mediation is voluntary. A neutral person (called a mediator) helps the parties come to an agreement on the issues in your case.
- You and your spouse control the pace of the process
- Your case is confidential
- Your agreement is more likely to reflect a compromise
- Your agreement can address your specific needs and concerns
- There is little court involvement
- People are more likely to follow the terms of a mediated agreement than a court-imposed order.
- To mediate about custody and visitation issues, you can work with a mediator from the Court's Custody Mediation office once you have been given a court date.
- You may also hire a private mediator. There is a fee to do private mediation. Look up "Attorneys-Mediation" on the Internet or in the yellow pages of your telephone book.
For information about the Court's mediation services, contact the Child Custody Mediation Services office through the information listed here.
Research tells us that children of separated or divorced parents do better if both parents stay actively involved in their children's lives.
Remember: Conflict is not good for your children. The way you and the other parent act affects them. The more you and the other parent can deal with each other without conflict, the better it will be for your children.
Here are some suggestions to ease the transition for your children:
- Tell your children about the separation together, if possible.
- Answer your children's questions honestly, but avoid saying things they don't need to know.
- Reassure your children that they are not to blame for the separation.
- Tell your children you and the other parent loves them very much and will take care of them.
- Include the other parent in school and other activities.
- Encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent.
- Be consistent and be on time to pick up and return the children.
- Develop a parenting plan that gives your children time and access to both parents.
- Try to never cancel plans with your children.
- Make two homes for your children with two fully involved parents.
- Encourage your children to have a loving, satisfying relationship with the other parent.
Please do not:
- Ask your children for information about the other parent.
- Try to control the other parent.
- Use your children to carry messages back and forth.
- Argue in front of the children.
- Discuss child support issues with the children.
- Speak negatively about the other parent.
- Put your children in the position of having to take sides.
- Use your children to hurt the other parent.
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, legal separation, or annulment. Sometimes you also have to make a second, final disclosure.
You must complete and file the necessary court forms to get your divorce judgment. This does not happen automatically.
Laws about Legal Separation and Annulment are different from divorce laws. Please talk to a lawyer or contact the Family Law Facilitator for help.
You can get a judgment by:
- Default (when the other party does not respond),
- Written agreement or
Remember: You cannot get divorced just by filing a motion.
Most divorce cases fall into one of these categories:
If the other party does not answer the court papers ("defaults"), then you can get a default judgment by:
- Talking with a lawyer or
- Reading a self-help book about what you need to do next, or
- Hiring a legal document preparer, or you may
- Go to the court's Self-Help Center
If you and your spouse have an agreement on all issues in your divorce ("uncontested"), you can write up and file your agreement by:
- Hiring a lawyer to write it for you, or
- Reading a self-help book, or
- Hiring a legal document preparer
Trial (contested divorce, legal separation, or annulment)
Sometimes it is not possible to come to an agreement with your spouse. There may be issues where you disagree or your spouse may refuse to finalize the divorce. 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 situation, you should speak 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. Know your rights before you finish your divorce or you may lose those rights forever.
Here are the steps you need to take to finish your contested divorce.
Step 1: File your "Request for Status Conference to Set Case for Trial" form with the Court (Local Form ALA FL-050)
As soon as you are ready to finalize your divorce and set a court hearing, and you have filed the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure and Income and Expense Declaration (FL-141) you may file a "Request for Status Conference to Set Case for Trial" form. Have someone who is at least 18 years of age and not involved in your case mail a copy of the form to your spouse or their lawyer. The person who mails the form must then sign the Proof of Service on the back of the form and return it to you.
Step 2: Set a Status Conference hearing date
After the Court receives your "Request for Status Conference to Set Case for Trial" form, a notice of the date and time the Status Conference hearing is scheduled will mailed you and your spouse . You and your spouse must go to court for the Status Conference hearing and if your case does not settle, you must go to court for a Settlement Conference. If your case does not settle at the Settlement Conference, you must return to court for a trial.
Before coming to court for the Status Conference, prepare a "Status Conference Questionnaire" (Local Form ALA FL-041). (Local Rule 5.45) Before coming to court for the Settlement Conference, prepare a "Settlement Conference Statement." The Settlement Conference Statement gives a detailed and thoroughly documented explanation of your issue(s). You will also list the issues that you agree on and the issues where you do not agree.
You must bring the original documents and two (2) copies of the Status Conference to the Clerk's Office at least four (4) days before the hearing to file them. You must also serve your spouse at least four (4) days before the Status Conference hearing and file the proof of service showing you had them served.
Step 3: Your Status Conference
At the Status Conference, the judge will review the status of the case, your discovery plans, your progress toward settlement, and any outstanding issues. The judge may make orders for whatever actions permitted by law that would tend to promote a just and efficient disposition of the case.
Step 4: Your Settlement Conference
The Settlement Conference is a chance to tell the judge which issues you have settled and which issues you still do not agree on. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all the issues at the Settlement Conference, the judge may grant your divorce at this hearing and you will avoid returning to court for trial.
Step 5: Your Trial
If your case goes to trial, the judge will tell you at the Settlement Conference 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 6: Your 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 the following documents:
- A Judgment (Form FL-180)
- Attachments to the Judgment (on court forms or pleading paper that contain the orders for custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, and attorneys fees, if any)
- Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-190)
- Two (2) addressed, stamped envelopes with the court's return address. One will have your address; the other will have your spouse's address.
For help with these forms, go to the Judicial Council website (www.courts.ca.gov), or visit the court's Family Law Clerk's Office, or visit the court's Self-Help Center.
After you prepare your documents, make copies for your records and file them with the County Clerk.
There may be a time, even years after your divorce, that you need a copy of the divorce papers.
To get copies of divorce documents, go to the courthouse and ask for a copy or send a request through the mail.
To visit the courthouse or send a request by mail, see directions, addresses and business hours at (Family Court Location-Hours-Directions)
To request a copy by mail, send us:
- Your written request,
- A check payable to the Superior Court, and
- A self-addressed stamped legal-sized envelope.
For the amount owed for copying and mailing court documents as well as the correct mailing address, please contact the Family Law Clerk's Office. There is an additional charge for a certified copy. If you do not know the divorce case number, there will be a small charge to look this up. Please provide as much information as you can in your request. This will help the clerk do a thorough search and get you the information you need.