Frequently asked questions

Divorce, legal separation, nullity...

What paperwork do I need to complete to file for divorce?

Whether filing for Dissolution (divorce), Legal Separation or a Nullity Proceeding, the process is essentially the same.  The minimum document requirements are:

Additional Forms: Income and Expense Declaration(FL-150), Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142), and Property Declaration – Separate and Community (FL-160). The “Additional Forms” are called “Declarations of Disclosure.”  These documents are required by law within 60 days of filing a Dissolution (divorce), Legal Separation or Nullity Proceeding.  Updated Disclosures may also be required at the end of your case. 

Form packets containing all of the forms necessary to begin a Dissolution (divorce), Legal Separation or Nullity case are available online or from a Family Law Court. Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

How soon will I be divorced after I file the paperwork?

No matter what your friends tell you, you will NOT BE SINGLE in 6 months. Finalizing your divorce does not happen automatically, it requires MORE PAPERWORK called a Judgment. The parties are responsible for taking the necessary steps to get the final Judgment. Therefore, the amount of time it takes to get the final judgment is up to the parties.

The soonest you can become single is 6 months and one day after service on the Respondent. So, if you properly complete your final documents (called the Judgment) and turn it in, provided the paperwork is timely and done correctly, you will receive your Judgment in the mail with the judicial officer’s signature. The Judgment will also have a termination date written on it. That date is found next to: “Date Marital or Domestic Partnership Status Terminates”.

Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

What are the next steps after I have served the other party with a copy of the petition?

After service of the initial documents on the other side (the Respondent), what you are required to do next will depend upon what actions the Respondent takes. The Respondent has 30 days to file a written Response to your Petition.  

  • If the Respondent files a Response, the parties must either enter into an agreement, or they must go to a settlement conference and then trial.

  • If the Respondent does not file a Response, you may request a default judgment or complete the case by agreement. The case can be resolved by agreement even if the Respondent does not file a Response. In that case, the Respondent’s signature on the agreement must be notarized.

Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

Do I need to respond to a summons and petition for divorce?

If you have been served with a summons and a petition, you are the respondent in a court case for divorce or legal separation. Once you are served, you have several options:

    1. You can do nothing - which means that whatever your spouse or domestic partner is asking for in the Petition will probably be granted. The judge will base his or her decision about property, support, and custody and visitation (if you have children together) only on what your spouse or domestic partner has requested in the Petition.

    2. You can do nothing because you have a written notarized agreement with your spouse or domestic partner where you both agree to end your marriage or domestic partnership. And you agree about other things like the division of your property and your debt, spousal or partner support, and, if you have children together, child support and custody and visitation orders.

    3. You can file a response with the court but also reach an agreement with your spouse or domestic partner about all the issues.

    4. You file a response with the court in which you disagree with what your spouse or domestic partner is asking for.

If you decide to file a response, you have 30 days from the date you were served with the Summons and Petition to respond. To file a Response, complete the Response - Marriage\Domestic Partnership and file it with the court.

Form packets containing all of the forms necessary to begin a Dissolution (divorce), Legal Separation or Nullity case are available online or from a Family Law Court. Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

What happens if the other party does not respond to the petition?

If thirty days have passed since the Summons/Petition was served and the Respondent has not filed a written Response, the Petitioner may request a default judgment. A default judgment permits the Petitioner to obtain the relief that was requested in the original paperwork. The forms required to request a Default Judgment include:

If there are minor children involved in the case, you will also need:

If you have questions, they can be addressed at a Family Law workshop specifically addressing Judgments. Some of the workshops are designed to accommodate parties who wish to complete their case by agreement. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

How long do I have to wait to submit a Request to Enter Default?

The Respondent has 30 days from the date of service to respond. After the 30 days, the Petitioner may file a Request to Enter Default (FL-165).

Workshops explaining how to complete forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

What can I do if I was never served with a petition for divorce and now there is a default judgment against me?

If you were not served with the original Summons/Petition for Dissolution you may file a motion to “set aside” the existing Judgment by Default. You may do this by filling out a Request for Order (FL-300). Under the ‘Other’ category, write the words ‘Set Aside Default Judgment’.

  • If the Judgment by Default is less than 6 months old, write ‘Set Aside Default Judgment per Code of Civil Procedure section 473’.
  • If the Judgment by Default is more than 6 months old, but less than 2 years old, file a ‘Set Aside Default per Family Code Section 2121’.  For additional information on proceeding under Family Code Section 2121, check with your local law librarian.
  • If the Judgment by Default is more than 2 years old, file a separate action to ask for the Judgment to be Vacated and/or Set Aside.  For additional information on asking the Court to vacate a Judgment, check with your local law librarian.


paternity...

What does Paternity mean?

Establishing parentage, also called "paternity”, means obtaining a court order that says who the legal parents of a child are. Establishing parentage is necessary before custody, visitation, or child support will be ordered by a court.

What paperwork do I need to complete to file for paternity?

The following forms can open a court case for paternity. The minimum document requirements are:

Form packets containing all of the forms necessary to begin a paternity case are available online or from a Family Law Court. Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

What are the next steps after I have served the other party with a copy of the petition?

After service of the initial documents on the other side (the Respondent), what you are required to do next will depend upon what actions the Respondent takes. The Respondent has 30 days to file a written Response to your Petition.

  • If the Respondent files a Response, the parties must either enter into an agreement, or they must go to a settlement conference and then trial.
  • If the Respondent does not file a Response, you may request a default judgment or complete the case by agreement.  The case can be resolved by agreement even if the Respondent does not file a Response.  In that case, the Respondent’s signature on the agreement must be notarized.     

Workshops explaining how to complete default judgment forms, or to schedule a settlement conference, are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

How do I respond to a summons and petition for paternity?

If you have been served with a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship by the other parent, you have 30 days from the date you were served to respond. If you do not respond within the 30 days, the court may establish the legal relationship requested in the petition. To file a Response, complete the Response to Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (FL-220) and file it with the court.

Form packets containing all of the forms necessary to respond to a paternity case are available online or from a Family Law Court. Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

What happens if the other party does not respond to the petition?

If thirty days have passed since the Summons/Petition was served and the Respondent has not filed a written Response, the Petitioner may request a default judgment. A default judgment permits the Petitioner to obtain the relief that was requested in the original paperwork. The forms required to request a Default Judgment include:

If you have questions, they can be addressed at a Family Law workshop specifically addressing paternity judgments. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

How long do I have to wait to submit a Request to Enter Default?

The Respondent has 30 days from the date of service to respond. After the 30 days, the Petitioner may file a Request to Enter Default (FL-165).

Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

Can I dispute paternity if it has already been established by the Court?

When a court has already determined that someone is the legal parent of a child, it is often too late to dispute paternity. Trying to have a parentage judgment set aside or canceled can be very difficult, depending on the laws that apply in the particular case and the time that has passed since the case was filed.

If you find out that there is a judgment of paternity, or a judgment for child support against you, you should seek the advice of an attorney or come to the Self Help/Family Law Assistance Center for further direction.


Serving Paperwork...

What does ‘serving paperwork’ mean?

Service is the procedure used to give notice to a person (such as a respondent) of the papers you filed with the court. This notifies the other party of the action and allows the other party to respond to the proceeding if they so choose. Service is completed by delivering a set of court documents to the person to be served.

Who can serve the papers?

You are NOT allowed to personally serve papers in your own case. Any person 18 years or older may serve papers, except the petitioner or respondent in your case. The person can be a friend, relative, or anyone else. You can also hire a professional to serve the papers for you. They are listed in the phone book under Process Servers.

What if the party resides in another state or if I am not aware of their whereabouts?

Serving the paperwork (Summons & Petition) when the party resides in another state can be accomplished in various ways:

  • Certified Mail: If the Respondent lives out of state, he or she can be served by mailing a copy of the Summons/Petition and all other filed documents by certified, return receipt mail to that person. In order for service to be valid the return receipt from the post office must be signed by the Respondent, not by any other person. If the Respondent does not sign for the documents, you will need to attempt either personal or substituted service.

    Once the Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested card is signed and returned it must be attached to Proof of Service of Summons form (FL-115) and filed with the Court.

  • Acknowledgment and Receipt:  With this type of service, the server mails to the Respondent a copy of the Summons/Petition and all other filed documents, along with two copies of the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt (FL-117) and a stamped, return envelope.  The server, not the Petitioner, must complete the top portion of the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt.  Service is deemed complete on the date the Notice and Acknowledgment form is signed at the bottom by Respondent.  As with a Certified Mail receipt, this type of service is NOT VALID unless signed by the Respondent.

    Once the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt is signed and returned it must be attached to Proof of Service of Summons form (FL-115) and filed with the Court.

  • Substituted Service:  If you cannot get the Respondent personally served after 3 attempts, you may have your server leave a copy of the Summon/Petition and other filed documents at the Respondent’s place of business or residence.  But, you must follow the legal requirements.

    This involves leaving the documents with a person who is in charge at the regular place of business or a competent adult (someone over 18) who lives at the residence of the Respondent.  The server must inform the person of the general nature of the paperwork.

    Then, the server mails a copy of the paperwork to the same address where the papers were left, so either a residence or regular business address.

    Next, the server must fill out a “Declaration of Due Diligence”.  This is a document that describes all the attempts that were made to serve the Respondent personally.  The Declaration is usually attached to the Proof of Service of Summons form FL-115.

    Once service is complete, the person who performed the service will have to fill out a Proof of Personal Service and that will have to be filed with the court.

  • Publication/Posting:  When all else fails – personal service, substituted service, service by acknowledgment and receipt, service by certified mail (return receipt requested), you can apply to the Court for permission to serve by Publication or Posting.  This method is generally used to serve people WHO ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BE FOUND.

    Before you can ask to serve by Publication or Posting you must make a good faith attempt to find the other party.  This includes mailing a letter to the last known address to see if it comes back, talking to old neighbors, checking with relatives, going to the last known employer, checking the internet, checking with family and friends, checking to see if the person owns real property in the area by going to the County Recorder’s office and any other thing you think might help you find the person. 

    You must state, in a Declaration, under penalty of perjury, what you did to try and find the Respondent.  The packet for Service by Publication and the packet for Service by Posting and Mailing are available at the Court.  If the court is satisfied that you did all you could to find the Respondent the judicial officer will give you permission to serve by Publication or Posting. 


    If approved for Service by Publication, you will place a legal advertisement in a Court-Approved NewspaperRemember – You must be approved (have a court order) to serve by Publication.  Do not place the notice in a newspaper until the court approves your request.

    If approved for Service by Posting and Mailing, the court clerk will provide additional instructions.

    'List of Court Approved Newspapers' 

What do I do if the party resides in another country (outside the United States of America)?

Certain international treaties and agreements with foreign countries will determine how you must serve an individual residing a foreign country, including Mexico. You must not assume that using the methods recognized as valid within the United States, will apply to foreign countries. The methodology usually involves compliance with The Hague Convention Letters Rogatory, or the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory. The United States State Department can also provide information about foreign service, as not all countries are the same.

The other party is in the military and I cannot find him/her, what can I do?

An active duty member of the military can generally be found by contacting their command. Please note that due to privacy and security concerns you may not be successful in finding the individual you need to serve. You may also contact the locator service for each branch of the military.

Further online information can be found at The Official United States Marine Corps FAQ > Personnel Locator

Additional resources include:

Army Worldwide Locator
8899 East 56th Street
Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN 46249-5301
Tel: 1-866-771-6357

Navy Locater: Navy Personnel Command (PERS 312)
5720 Integrity Drive
Millington, TN 38055-3120
Tel: 901-874-3388, Fax: 901-874-2000

Commandant of the Marine Corps Headquarter, USMC Code MMSB-17
2008 Elliot Road, Room 203
Quantico, VA 22134
Tel: 1-210-652-5775

United States Air Force HQ/AFBCDPDXIDL
550 C Street, West, Suite 50
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4752.

If you have information regarding the general location and branch of the Respondent, then you can contact the base Judge Advocate General (JAG) for assistance. Call the main base operator and ask for the Judge Advocate.

Federal law, the Service members Civil Relief Act, prohibits entry of a default judgment against an active duty member of the military. You may seek legal assistance at the Family Law Facilitator’s office or through a private attorney for more information regarding the requirements and limitations of federal law.


Custody/visitation ...

How do I obtain (or change) custody/visitation and support orders?

In order to obtain a custody/visitation or support orders, you must file a Request for Order (FL-300). The Riverside Self Help/Family Law Assistance Center has clinics available to review completed paperwork to ensure that it is filled out properly. Once your paperwork is complete:

  • Make at least two copies of all your forms. One copy will be for you; another copy will be for the other parent. The original is for the court.
  • File your forms with the court clerk.  Turn in your forms to the court clerk. He or she will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” You will have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.
  • Get your court date (and possibly a mediation date).  The clerk will probably give you a court date. You may have to meet with the mediator before the court date or go to a mediation orientation. Ask the clerk if you are not sure.
  • Serve your papers on the other parent. Have someone (NOT you) serve the other parent with a copy of your papers before your court date (and mediation date if scheduled).
  • File your Proof of Service.  Have your server fill out a proof of service (you can use Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) and give it to you so you can file it with the court.  It is very important that your server fills out the Proof of Service correctly.
  • Go to your mediation and court hearing.

To change existing orders, for instance those concerning child custody/visitation, or child support, you will also use the Request for Order form. Please note, however, that in order to modify an existing order it is necessary to show the court that the current orders are no longer effective, because of a significant change in circumstances. For instance, if you have a visitation plan that allows you to see the children three days per week and the other parent is moving to another school district, it could affect your ability to have the kids for those three days. If you are paying child support and you just got laid off, your ability to pay support has changed. These are “changes in circumstances”.

Workshops explaining how to complete the forms are available at various locations. Check here for a Family Law Workshop in your area - Riverside, Hemet, Murrieta or Indio.

What do I do if my child is in danger and I need orders now?

If a person can show that there is a risk that the child will be harmed or removed from the State of California if the court does not do something that day or within a few days, he or she can ask the court to make temporary custody orders on an emergency basis.

These temporary emergency orders are also called “ex parte orders”, and they will only be in place for a short time. After making emergency orders, the court will schedule a regular hearing to consider whether the orders should be extended beyond the temporary period. You can request temporary emergency orders by completing the following forms:

The judicial officer cannot consider your request for temporary emergency orders unless you have given notice. You must give notice to all parties or their attorneys no later than 10:00 a.m. on the court day before the emergency hearing. After providing notice, you must serve your documents requesting emergency orders on all parties or their attorneys at the first reasonable opportunity.

Completed forms need to be provided to the court clerk for review. Keep in mind that requests for temporary emergency orders need to be reviewed by a judicial officer before they are filed.

See Riverside Superior Court Local Rule 5165 for more information on requesting temporary emergency orders. You may also seek legal assistance at the Self Help/Family Law Assistance Center.

Note: If you or a family member needs domestic violence or child abuse protection, please use the Domestic Violence Protection Act forms.

What can I do if the other party is not following the court's orders?

If the other party is not following court orders you may:

NOTE: A Contempt proceeding is very difficult, time consuming, and is less likely to give you the relief you seek. Furthermore, a judicial officer must review your documents before allowing them to be filed by the Clerk. Your facts must be good, clear, and demonstrate an ongoing pattern of refusal to share your children with you.

What do I do if my child was not returned after visitation and there are no court orders?

You need to open a case in order to get Court orders. This means you will have to file a Petition for Dissolution, Legal Separation or Nullity; Petition to Establish Paternity or Petition for Custody and Visitation (FL-260). At the same time the Petition is filed, submit a Request for Order seeking custody and visitation orders.

If you believe that your child is at risk of immediate and irreparable harm, you may seek emergency orders. Further information on temporary emergency orders may be obtained from an attorney or the Self Help/Family Law Assistance Center. The Request to Temporary Emergency Order procedure involves several steps and additional forms.

What can I do if I am not being allowed to see my grandchildren?

There is little a grandparent can to do obtain visitation rights. Such rights can only be ordered by the court in very limited circumstances. Before coming to court to request grandparent visitation, try to work something out with the parent with primary custody. This is your BEST option. Most grandparents find themselves asking for visitation because: their child, the parent of the grandchild, is deceased, incarcerated, or has disappeared due to a problem with drugs, alcohol or some other unknown reason. If the parents of the child are still living together, the Court cannot intervene to give you visitation rights.

If the parent who has custody will not allow you to see your grandchild, you should seek the advice of an attorney or come to the Self Help/Family Law Assistance Center for further direction. Grandparent visitation is very case specific – your facts may or may not be sufficient to convince a court you should see your grandchild. You must prove that not seeing you, the grandparent, will actually harm the grandchild. In other words, it’s not what you want or are longing for, the question really is: how will a visitation plan benefit the child.


Support ...

Am I expected to pay child support if I am not the biological parent of the child?

Under certain circumstances, a non-biological parent may be ordered to pay support. For example, if you have been treating the child as your own, the child calls you dad or mom, you act exactly the way a biological parent is expected to act, the Court can make an order naming you as the parent and making orders for custody/visitation and support. There are certain other actions and timelines that will influence the Court regarding whether or not such an order is appropriate. You should seek legal guidance on this issue from an attorney or the Self Help/Family Law Assistance Center.

What can I do if support was ordered and I have not received any money?

If your spouse is employed you may obtain an Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (FL-435) from the court or online. Fill out the form, turn it into the Court clerk’s office with a self-addressed stamped envelope and when the order is returned to you by mail, serve a copy on the employer by certified mail. Employers are required by law to deduct the funds from the employee’s paycheck, although certain limits will apply.

Is it possible to get child support if I have separated from my spouse/domestic partner?

So long as you have filed a case for Legal Separation then you may seek child custody, visitation and support orders.

If you have not filed a case, you will need to do so before the court can make orders. You can also request child support by going to Department of Child Support Services and asking them to file on your behalf, or by filing your own case. Child and spousal support may also be requested as part of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order.

How do I stop the wage garnishment if my child has turned 18?

An earnings assignment can be modified or terminated once a child is 18 and has graduated from high school, or has reached the age of 19. To terminate the assignment you may file an Income Withholding for Support and an Ex Parte Application for Earnings Assignment Order (FL-430) requesting the modification and/or termination, and providing the facts that support the request.

The other party is not assisting me financially, how do I open a child support case?

You may apply for assistance in obtaining child support through the Department of Child Support Services in the County where you live; or, you may ask for support orders yourself by filing a case with the Court (Dissolution, Establish Parental Relationship, etc.) along with a Request for Order seeking support orders

NOTE: If you are receiving cash aid (TANF/CalWorks), the Department of Child Support Services will file a case for child support on their own and without you asking.


Preparing for a Hearing...

Can I present evidence at my hearing?

Evidence is information a party can present in court to prove their case. Evidence can be in two main forms:

    1. Witness testimony (people):
      The party involved in the lawsuit;
      Other people who have direct and relevant information about the case;
      People who keep relevant records; or
      Experts qualified to given an opinion about some aspect of the case.
      Usually, any witnesses must be present in court for the hearing or trial.

    2. Exhibits (things):
      Documents or objects used to prove your case (or disprove the other side’s);
      Photographs; or
      Records: police records, medical records, bills, appraisals, school records, financial statements, etc.

These are rules of evidence (laws) that everyone must follow. These rules exist to make sure that the judicial officer gets reliable, relevant, and accurate evidence to consider when making decisions about your case. Together, these laws are called the California Evidence Code. You will have to follow these rules even if you are self-represented.

View a handout which explains getting your evidence for court. For additional information regarding the Evidence Code, check with your local law librarian.

At my last court appearance, I was not allowed to speak for as long as I wanted. What can I do?

The judicial officer can limit the time parties have to speak at a hearing. Judicial Officers review the paperwork submitted by both parties before the hearing. Each side will have a little time to present new information, but typically only to the extent the information will assist the court in making a decision.

Your best insurance policy is to tell your side of the story in your written documentation (statements, photographs, invoices, etc.). If you do not file a written response to the other party’s documents, the judicial officer does not have to hear your side of the story. There are important time limits you must follow. Bottom Line - your response (your side of the story) MUST be submitted in writing to the other party and the court ON TIME or else the judicial officer does not have to consider it.


General...

Are there any rules for completing forms?

When filling out or completing forms, they should be neatly printed in blue or black ink, or typewritten. Prior to bringing the forms to the court for filing, you should make two copies. The court can make copies for you, but the cost is $0.50 cents per page.

When bringing your forms to the court for filing, you will provide the clerk with your originals and the copies. After the clerk processes the papers, the court will retain the originals and the clerk will give you back the copies; one for you to keep and the other to be provided to (served on) the other party.

What if I cannot afford to pay filing fees?

If you are unable to pay fees and costs, you may ask the court to permit you to proceed without paying them. See the Information Sheet on Waiver of Superior Court Fees and Costs (FW-001-INFO) for additional information.

Are my court records public?

For most cases, yes. All court files, including any orders of the court, become public records, meaning they are not private. Any person can go to the clerk of the court and request to see any case file. There are some exceptions. When the type of case itself is confidential the general public does not have access to court records. There may also be portions of a family law file that are confidential and only certain people are allowed access (including parties and their lawyers).

If you are not sure if your court case, documents, or file are confidential, ask the court clerk.

How to submit a change of address?

To notify the court of your new address, you will need to complete Judicial Council form Notice of Change of Address or Other Contact Information (MC-040). Once completed, the form can be filed with the court clerk.

How do I request a Court Reporter Transcript?

Court Reporter Transcripts can be requested online. Complete information regarding court reporter transcripts including ordering instructions and a request form is available on the court’s website.

How can I request an Interpreter?

At the time of filing any of your court documents, notify the clerk that you or the other party will need an interpreter for the hearing. The clerk will then notify the Interpreter Services Division of your request. While the Interpreter Services Division will make every effort to provide an interpreter for you, you may need to bring your own.

Please email the Interpreter Services Division if you have any questions about this service.

© 2016 Superior Court of California, County of Riverside