By Divorce.com staff
Updated Sep 14, 2023
Omar Gastelum Updated Sep 14, 2023
Divorces can be lengthy and complicated, adding stress and financial expenses to what is already an unfortunate event. Still, there are situations where splitting up can be faster than traditional litigation and take fewer steps.
California offers some couples a simplified divorce called a summary dissolution. If you meet the state’s criteria, you can bypass the complicated divorce process and keep things simple.
Read on to find out if it’s a good choice for you.
What is a Summary Dissolution?
Summary dissolution is a simplified divorce process for couples who meet specific eligibility criteria. It is a type of divorce rather than an alternative option, like mediation or a collaborative divorce.
A summary dissolution will result in the same valid divorce decree that will officially terminate your marriage or domestic partnership. However, it may be a more straightforward way to achieve the same outcome.
A few prominent differences between a summary dissolution and a regular divorce are the cost, time, and amount of paperwork involved. In particular, summary dissolution requires couples to file fewer legal forms with the court.
Also, you don’t need a lawyer for a summary dissolution. You won’t need to schedule multiple appointments with legal professionals or attend court hearings. So, it’s one of the fastest ways to get divorced if you meet the mandatory requirements.
What Are the Benefits of Summary Dissolution?
Summary dissolution in California has several benefits compared to the traditional divorce process.
- Reduced divorce expenses:
Summary dissolution in California is less expensive than traditional divorce since the spouses do not usually hire attorneys for legal representation. So, the price mainly consists of court filing fees.
- The simplicity of the process:
The process is almost automatic and includes a few simple steps. In particular, the spouses only need to file the paperwork and wait for the judge’s decision. Moreover, unlike regular divorce, they don’t need to schedule and attend court hearings.
- Greater control over the outcome:
With the summary dissolution, the spouses have more control over the divorce outcome. In particular, they agree on the terms and put them into a settlement agreement that governs their post-divorce rights and responsibilities.
- Maintaining more privacy:
Spouses with a summary dissolution can keep the details of their divorce proceedings private. It’s a way to end a marriage without going to court and giving out personal information.
- Minimized conflicts and stress:
By peacefully reaching agreements outside the courtroom, the couples experience less stress and minimize the likelihood of conflict escalation. Additionally, they have a higher chance of staying on good terms after divorce.
What is the Difference Between Summary Dissolution and Divorce in California?
Summary dissolution and divorce are legal methods for ending a marriage in California. However, there are several significant differences between them.
- not all couples can qualify for a summary dissolution, whereas all spouses can file for a regular divorce if one spouse is a state resident. Specifically, California family law lists mandatory requirements for a summary dissolution, such as the short duration of the marriage, no children, and limited property and assets.
- spouses cannot request spousal support or appeal the summary dissolution outcome. Once the dissolution is final, there are only a handful of ways to challenge the judgment. By contrast, a regular divorce allows the parties to request a new trial or appeal the decision in higher courts.
- The summary dissolution process includes fewer steps than a traditional divorce. For instance, spouses don’t need to go to court for a hearing or trial. In addition, the couple has a written property agreement, so they don’t need court involvement to handle this issue.
- The last subtle difference is the duration of the six-month waiting period. In summary dissolution, it starts after the spouses file their Joint Petition. In a regular divorce, the countdown begins when the non-filing party is served with the divorce papers.
Summary Dissolution Requirements
Summary dissolution is available to couples who meet all of the following criteria. If there is even one point that doesn’t apply to you, you can’t get a summary dissolution.
- You do not share any minor children, adopted or biological (and therefore won’t need a child support or custody agreement).
- Neither of you is pregnant with the other’s child.
- Neither of you will request alimony (spousal support payments).
- You’ve been married for less than five years when you separated or decided to divorce.
- You have less than $6,000 in shared debt (excluding car loans).
- Your shared (community) property is less than $47,000 in value (excluding cars).
- The property you possessed before you were married and other separate property, including things like inheritances, is less than $47,000.
- You do not own or lease any property (like homes, land, or retail space).
- At least one of you has lived in California for the last six months and has lived in the county you want to file for divorce for at least three months.
- You intend to get divorced based on “irreconcilable differences” in a no-fault divorce rather than a fault divorce.
- You and your spouse agree on how everything should be divided and have prepared a property agreement.
Summary dissolution works for most young couples who decide to get divorced. It also works for spouses who choose to divorce soon after getting married but don’t qualify for an annulment.
What Happens If You Don’t Meet All of the Criteria?
If you don’t meet all the criteria on the list, you can work towards meeting some of them. For example, if you and your spouse have $10,000 in shared debt, you can pay it down to $5,999 to qualify for summary dissolution.
If you’ve moved away from the state of California, one of you can move back for at least six months. You can also decide to forego alimony and work towards reaching a mutual property agreement required in summary dissolution.
The rest of the criteria are immovable. If your assets are too significant or you have dependent children, you can do nothing to change the situation. In that case, you can use uncontested divorce as an alternative to summary dissolution.
How to File for Summary Dissolution in California
The summary dissolution process is much easier than the traditional divorce and is designed for both spouses’ simultaneous participation. Below are the essential steps for completing the summary dissolution in California.
Sign the Summary Dissolution Information Form
The first step of the process is signing the Summary Dissolution Information sheet (FL-810).
This form describes the rules of a summary dissolution and outlines the process. You both need to read and sign it to proceed forward.
Gather and Share Financial Information
Each spouse needs to fill out and sign the following forms and give copies to the other party:
- Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
- Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
- Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142)
Each spouse must share these financial disclosure documents with the other, along with two years of tax returns. If you filed together for the past two years, you only need to provide one copy.
Work Toward an Agreement
There are two critical pieces of paperwork in this step. The first is the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution (FL-800), which is your official request for a simplified divorce.
The second is the Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-825).
You don’t have to fill out much of the second form. It just requires the name, mailing address, and signature of both parties. The rest is for the court to use.
Draft a Property Agreement
Create a written agreement about how you intend to divide marital property. This document acts as your marital settlement agreement. So, ensure you’re thorough and don’t forget anything important because any mistakes will be difficult, if not impossible, to fix after the divorce.
You can draft your own agreement or use templates provided in the Summary Dissolution Information Form (FL-810). Also, both you and your spouse must date and sign it.
And remember to make two copies of the original document for each spouse.
File With the Court
Bring your completed paperwork with two self-addressed envelopes to your local county’s court clerk’s office and pay the filing fee of $435. If neither of you can afford to pay it, you may qualify for a waiver that will allow you to file for free.
Since this is a joint petition, there is no service of process to handle. No one is the petitioner, and no one is the respondent.
You’re both aware of the situation at the time of filing. You won’t have any court fees, you won’t make a court appearance, and there won’t be any divorce proceedings.
The judge reviews your paperwork, and the process handles itself. They’ll only contact you if they need more information.
Wait Six Months
There is a six-month waiting period for a Summary Dissolution to become a finalized divorce.
During this time, either person can file a notice with the court if they change their mind and want to stop the summary dissolution.
They have up until the six-month mark to change their mind. Then, if no one revokes the dissolution, you’ll be granted a divorce when the waiting period is up.
How Much Does a Summary Dissolution Cost in California
One of the main reasons for couples in California to choose a summary dissolution is its low cost. It mainly consists of court fees unless the spouses consult any outer experts or seek advice from an attorney.
A summary dissolution in California will cost $435, a filing fee for submitting a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution.
Despite the seemingly low price compared to traditional litigation, the cost of a summary dissolution may still be a financial burden to a divorcing couple.
In this case, they can ask the court for a fee waiver. However, if only one spouse meets the eligibility requirements, the party who doesn’t must pay the fee.
How Long Does a Summary Dissolution Take in California
Finalizing a summary dissolution in California takes six months. This waiting period is mandatory for all divorces and starts after filing the Joint Petition.
In many cases, the judge signs the forms early on in the process and puts a date on the Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-825), determining the moment a divorce will take effect.
Each spouse will receive the signed judgment by mail. However, the divorce won’t be final before the date specified in this document. Until then, each spouse can stop the summary dissolution by filing a revocation form (FL-830).
After that, the couple may file another summary dissolution or divorce. In this case, the court will reduce the waiting period.
For instance, if they already waited for two months during the summary dissolution, the waiting period for the subsequent divorce will be four months instead of six.
Summary dissolution in California is a simplified divorce process that is ideal for couples with relatively straightforward financial, parental, and personal situations.
While some spouses are not eligible for summary dissolution based on specific aspects of their lives, others may find that the process fits them perfectly.
Most people can complete their summary dissolution without the help of a lawyer. They only run into trouble if they aren’t sure how to divide their property. If you have a lot of sentimental things you’re attempting to split, you may not see eye to eye.
On the whole, a summary dissolution can make your split as stress-free and painless as possible so that you can move forward.