Filing Divorce Petition & Response

Filing and Serving the Divorce Petition: Filing and Serving the Divorce Petition in California

Filing Petition Packet: 

Once you have completed the Petition Packet, you’ll need to file them with the court clerk. Print, sign and date your forms in blue to distinguish the original from the copies. Make two copies of each signed form, including any required local forms. Then, package the forms so that you have three complete sets. You should have the original, which will be the court’s copy, one copy for you and one for your spouse. Unless your county allows electronic filing, you’ll file in person or by mail. Between mail filing and going in person, going in person will be the fastest method. Your Petition Packet will be filed at the same time. If you choose mail, it may take 1-3 weeks before your copies come back to you. Follow the instructions in “How to Locate, File and Serve Court Papers.”

Also, unless you qualify for a fee waiver, you’ll need to pay the filing fee listed on the Statewide Civil Fee Schedule under Family Law Fees for Petition or other first paper, when you file. If you wish to apply for a fee waiver, review form FW-010 to see if you qualify. 

Case Status Conference:  In some counties the clerk will automatically set a Case or Group Status Conference four to six months from the date you filed your Petition Packet. The Status Conference allows the judge to check in with you to make sure your case is moving along. The hearing is not to resolve issues, but to check whether you completed the disclosure forms, need a court settlement conference, or need trial dates. These are in place to keep cases moving and to direct those doing their divorce without attorneys through the system. Depending on your county, you can continue the hearing or take it off the court’s calendar if you don’t believe the conference will be helpful at that point. Check with your family law clerk’s office for procedures. 

If your County has a Case Status Conference, your hearing date will be on your local county form or a notice provided by the clerk.

For the rest of the counties, nothing happens when you file your Petition Packet. In fact, the judge will not see your Petition Packet or even know you filed it, until you do something more, such as request a hearing or file your divorce agreement. 

Service of Petition Packet:  After filing, the next step is to serve your spouse the Petition Packet using personal service, mail or publication. You cannot be the person to serve the Petition Packet because you are a party to the divorce case–someone else must serve your spouse. 

If you choose personal service, your server must hand deliver the copy of the filed Petition Packet to your spouse. Your server must be 18 years or older and can be anyone: a neighbor, friend, or a paid legal service provider. Make sure your server is polite and avoid serving your spouse in public, such as at work or your children’s school. Otherwise, future negotiations with your spouse may be difficult. Unless you believe your spouse will avoid service, you can give your spouse advance warning or agree to the time of service. 

If your server goes to your spouse’s home and your spouse is not there, your server can leave the filed Petition Packet with a household member that is older than 18 years old. Again, the server cannot leave the Petition Packet with you. If your server goes to your spouse’s work, and your spouse is not there, your server can leave it with someone at least 18 years old and in charge of the workplace, such as a receptionist. 

After serving your spouse, your server must complete and sign the Proof of Service of Summons,  FL-115, as the service document. You can always help your server complete the form. Once completed, you must file the Proof of Service with the court.

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Downloadable FL-115

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FL-115 Video

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You can also have your server mail the Petition Packet to your spouse, but it has a few more steps. Your spouse must agree to mail service by signing the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt, FL-117, and return a signed copy to you.  As with personal service, your server must be at least 18 years old. 

Your server will first complete a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt, FL-117, and include two copies with a copy of the filed Petition Packet and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Your server will then mail these documents to your spouse. Your spouse must sign and return at least one of the copies of the FL-117 to the server in the envelope your server provided within 20 days. Your documents are not served until your spouse signs FL-117. If you are the Respondent, signing the form does not mean you agree with anything in the Petition; it simply acknowledges that you were served and that the time for serving your Response has started.

If your spouse doesn’t sign within 20 days, you can give your spouse more time or use another service method, like personal service. If you do serve another way, your spouse can be liable for any costs you incur. 

If you cannot locate your spouse, there is another method called service by publication. If you can prove to the judge that you have exhausted all means of locating your spouse, the judge will give you permission to publish the Summons in a California newspaper that your spouse is mostly likely to see. 

Filing Proof of Service: Once you have served your spouse, you must also file the proof of service, FL-115, and if you used mail service, the FL-115 with the FL-117 attached to it. You can file it with the clerk by mail or in person. If you file by mail, mail the original Proof of Service with two copies, and a self-addressed prepaid envelope. The clerk will use your envelope to mail the copies back to you once filed. If you file in person, take the original form and two copies to the family court clerk’s office and have the clerk file the forms for you. When you get your copies back, one is for you and the other is for your spouse.

Filing the proofs and notice is very important. If these are not filed, you cannot finish your divorce because it’s as if you never served the Petition Packet on your spouse. 

Six-Months: Once a Petition Packet is served, the six-month and one day waiting period starts. This is the soonest your marital status can be terminated, i.e., the soonest you’ll be legally divorced. The first day is calculated as the day you served your spouse. If you serve your spouse on January 1st, the earliest you can be single is six months and a day later, July 2nd. If you serve your spouse by mail, service is the day your spouse signs the FL-117. 

You can finish your divorce agreement before the six months if your agreement is filed before the time period has elapsed. If so, your status will automatically terminate at six months and a day. 

If you finish your divorce after the six months date, unless you request an earlier termination date from the court by going to a hearing, your status will dissolve when your divorce is final.

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