Divorce FAQ

No. The process of getting a divorce begins once you file your petition. Before your divorce is finalized, all the issues must be resolved, either by default, agreement or through contested court proceedings (hearings and/or trial). You must have prepared and filed all of the necessary paperwork and paid all the applicable fees. Every case takes a different length of time to resolve. The process may take several months if the case is uncontested, or it could take much longer if there are complex issues. DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOU ARE DIVORCED UNTIL THERE IS A JUDGMENT SIGNED BY A JUDGE AND PROCESSED BY COURT STAFF. In all cases, your marital status cannot be terminated any earlier than six months after your spouse is either served with the divorce papers or files a response to the action.

Additional information on the dissolution (divorce) process can be located on the California Courts website under the "Self-Help" section.

In California, the same basic procedures apply to people who are legally dissolving a marriage or a registered domestic partnership.

To file for divorce, either one of the spouses or partners must have:

  • lived in the State of California for six (6) months and
  • lived in the county for three (3) months before starting their divorce in that county.

If someone wants to start his or her divorce in one county in California but does not meet residency requirements yet, they can file for a legal separation first, and then revise their petition to ask for divorce after they meet the residency requirements.

If someone's spouse or partner lives in another state or country with any children from the relationship who are 18 years old or younger, they should consider talking to an attorney before filing any papers with the court.

In the State of California, it is not necessary for both spouses to agree to the divorce. Either spouse can decide to end their marriage. The spouse who does not want to get a divorce cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. Non-participation will just lead to a "default" judgment, not to a dismissal of the divorce request.

It does not matter who is the first to file the divorce papers. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file (Petitioner) nor any disadvantage to the responding party (Respondent).

The orders made by a judge at the time of your divorce were based on information that was correct at that time. However, over the years things may change. For example, you may lose your job, inherit large sums of money, remarry or register a new domestic partnership. Some things in your judgment can be modified (changed) by a judge. For example:

  • You might ask to change child custody or visitation orders if one parent wants to move out of the area, or the child's needs change.
  • You might ask to change child, spousal or partner support if there has been a change in financial circumstances.

Some orders may not be changed. Usually the division of your property is not subject to modification. Or, if you and your spouse or partner agreed that spousal or partner support may not be modified, the courts will usually follow that agreement. If you have questions about what you can and cannot ask to be changed, consider consulting an attorney who has experience in this area of the law; or if you are unrepresented by an attorney, you may contact the Family Law Facilitator for general legal information and self-help services. Additional information can also be located on the California Courts website under the "Self-Help" section.

If you are getting divorced and want to change your name back to your maiden name, you can usually do that in your divorce case. If you are already divorced (in California only) and did not change your name in your divorce and you have decided you want to change back to your maiden name, you may. You may receive assistance from the self-help services of the Family Law Facilitator.

General information about getting copies from a court file and payment of fees can be found on the Obtain a Copy of a Court File page.

For imaged Family cases filed on or after August 24, 2015, some documents can be purchased online from the Family Register of Actions and mailed to you. 

To get a copy of your final divorce decree/judgment or other family law documents, mail a request to the business office where your case was filed, specify which documents you are requesting, and include your payment and a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage to have your copies sent to you by mail.  You will need the following:

  1. Your case number from San Diego Superior Court

    If you don't know your case number, you can find it either by:


    1. Calling the business office where the divorce was filed. 

    2. Looking it up online if the divorce was filed after 1974. 

      Use the online Case Search (Court Index) and follow the directions to look up a case number based on a party name.
    3. For cases filed 1880-1974 you will need to start by visiting Central Records where the hardbound index is kept:

      Central Courthouse Older Records

      1100 Union Street, 14th Floor

      San Diego, CA 92101

      8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

  2. Payment for document copying.  There are additional fees for certifying the copy and retrieving older cases from off-site storage.  Please refer to the court’s current fee schedule for details.

Generally, copy fees are 50 cents per copy page.  If you want a certified copy of a divorce decree there is an additional $15.00 fee for certifying the copy. The fee to certify any other document is $40.00.  To be sure you know the correct fees and methods of payment, however, you should call the business office where your case was filed.

Business Office addresses are:

Central Courthouse - Older Records

1100 Union Street, 14th Floor

San Diego, California 92101

(619) 844-2761

Central Courthouse - Family Business Office

1100 Union Street, 4th Floor Room 450

San Diego, California 92101

(619) 844-2777

East County Regional Center

250 East Main Street

El Cajon, California 92020

(619) 456-4100

North County Regional Center

325 South Melrose

Vista, California 92081

(760) 201-8600

South County Regional Center

500 Third Avenue

Chula Vista, California 91910

(619) 746-6200