Berkeley does not have its own Family Court. If you want to file for divorce and you live in Berkeley, which is in Alameda County, you will have to file your documents at the Alameda County Courthouse, which is now in Hayward.
There are a few steps to take when filing your divorce. First, if you are the spouse seeking a divorce, you need to fill out two standard court forms: a summons and a petition. If there are minor children involved, you will also need to complete an additional form called a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
There may be additional forms to file depending on the specifics of your divorce.
While you can obtain and file these documents on your own, it’s best to have a seasoned legal team of professionals assist with your divorce from the beginning. If your divorce proceeds like most, you will not need a lawyer, and there are a lot of options for filing your own divorce, such as Hello Divorce (https://hellodivorce.com). However, under certain circumstances, for example, if you own a business, have RSUs, or one spouse suffers from mental illness or substance abuse issues, you will need a seasoned, legal professional. It’s best to meet with a knowledgeable legal team as early as possible to discuss your options.
Keep in mind that every divorce is different, and it can take anywhere from six months to two years for a divorce to be finalized by the Superior Court of California. Here’s how it works:
Meet with a Divorce Lawyer Who Practices in Alameda County
If you’re considering a divorce, you certainly have questions. The best thing to do is meet with a divorce lawyer with a good amount of experience handling divorces like yours. Not all divorce attorneys mediate divorce, some will not take a case to trial. Find the right fit for you. Sometimes it is helpful to have an experienced attorney by your side at mediation who is not afraid to litigate your case should mediation fail. An experienced divorce lawyer will walk you through your options and what to expect throughout this process step by step, and will be there to have your back and protect your interests.
Your divorce lawyer should be able to give you advice on handling your assets and income as well as your spouse or domestic partner’s assets and income.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in Berkeley
A divorce case is initiated in Alameda County when a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage document is filed with the Superior Court of California in Alameda County. The petitioner (the person who is filing the petition) must pay a filing fee with the court. If you cannot afford the fee, you can file a Request to Waive Court Fees document (Form FW-001) for the court to review. The court will then decide if the filing fee should be waived.
When you file the petition, the clerk will stamp the divorce papers with the date of the filing and give you a copy to deliver to your spouse or domestic partner.
Serving Divorce Documents in Berkeley
The petition must then be served to your spouse or domestic partner (referred to legally as “the other party”) by someone over the age of 18 – but not you. This is called “service of process.” Whoever serves the other party must file a Proof of Service with the court to show that the other party has been served. This is important because service starts the timeline for the other party to file a Response. Sometimes service is easy and other times it can prove to be quite difficult. It all depends on your case and your current relationship with your spouse.
A divorce can either be contested or uncontested. A contested divorce may mean you go to court and may ultimately end in a trial. An uncontested divorce is when both parties agree to the terms and conditions of the dissolution, so no court may be necessary.
Once served, the other party then has 30 days to file a Response with the court. Filing a Response essentially allows both parties to ask the court for orders. If your spouse or domestic partner does not file a Response, they may be in “default.” A spouse who has “defaulted” may not be able to ask the court for orders other than orders relating to child custody.
Under current California law, a divorce cannot be finalized until at least six months and one day after your spouse or domestic partner receives the petition.
Exchanging Financial Information
Next, both parties will need to disclose their financial information. This exchange is a requirement and cannot be waived. This disclosure requirement means that both parties must tell the other party about all of the assets and debts that they know about that exist at the time of the divorce. This should include bank accounts , retirement plans, real estate, stocks, bonds, business opportunities and other assets. Both parties will also need to identify any debt owed. For some, this can be a simple process, while for others it may be quite involved. There are several factors involved, including your spouse or domestic partner’s willingness to cooperate as well as the diversity and depth of your combined investment portfolio.
The state of California recognizes “community property,” which is property that existed during the marriage that both parties have an interest in. This can include things like owning a joint business, stock options, RSUs or multiple properties.
Unless the Respondent is in default, both parties will need to complete a few forms to share financial information, including:
- Declaration of Disclosure (Family Law Form FL-140)
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150) or the Financial Statement (Form FL-155)
- Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142)
- Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (proof of service, Form FL-141)
These documents give the parties and the court an idea of each party’s financial situation – everything from current employment and income to assets, liabilities and monthly expenses. All this information will be considered when determining the amount of spousal support and child support to be paid, as well as how the assets and debts should be divided.
If the other party won’t fully disclose their assets or how much they are worth, your divorce lawyer can help you find out what they are hiding. In many cases, experts can track down assets that are concealed and determine their value. It is not uncommon for some parties to not properly disclose their earnings, or even decrease their earnings artificially to keep their spouse from receiving what they are entitled to. That’s why it’s vital to have an experienced lawyer with a depth of knowledge to identify potential problems and – more importantly – to help you avoid them.
Dividing Property Between Parties in Berkeley
Property that was acquired or that existed during the marriage must be identified and valued. It must also be classified as community (acquired during the marriage) or separate (acquired before or after the marriage, or as a gift or inheritance). Property is divided up based on factors such as when the property was acquired, how the property was purchased, tax agreements and the duration of the marriage. Prenuptial and premarital agreements that are in place are also considered.
Finalizing Your Divorce in Berkeley
Under California law, a divorce cannot be concluded until six months from the time the other party is served with the Petition (or from whenever the other party files a Response – whichever occurs first). A divorce is concluded by the entry of a Judgment.
Keep in mind that specific issues concerning the division of property, spousal support and child support, and custody of the children could take considerably longer than six months to resolve, and these issues may continue even after a Judgment is entered. In most cases, the parties can reach an agreement on custody, support and the division of assets. When you can’t reach an agreement, you need an experienced attorney to help you through the process and ensure that your rights and interests are protected.