Filing for Divorce in Santa Barbara

Step-By-Step Guidance from Our Family Law Firm

Divorcing your spouse can be one of the most confusing and emotionally fraught times of your life. To know what you can expect, read our step-by-step breakdown of the divorce process in Santa Barbara below, then reach out to Morales Law, P.C. for experienced, compassionate legal counsel. Attorney Marcus W. Morales is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar Of CA, Board Of Legal Specialization.

Thinking about filing for divorce? Call us at (805) 422-7966 for a free consultation.

Step 1: Filing Initial Divorce Petition & Other Initial Documents with the Court Clerk

Petition (FL-100) is the first form that must be filed with the court to begin a divorce case. In this petition you will provide roadmap of your marriage and notify the court if you are asking for spousal support, attorney’s fees, and any other orders.

The Petition will describe statistical facts about the marriage such as:

  • Date of marriage
  • Date of separation
  • Minor children
  • Basic information about separate property and debts of the filing party

Separate property and debts are defined on the property division page. If unknown or unsure, the filing party should state the following, “The nature and extent of separate property assets and debts are unknown to Petitioner at this time; Petitioner asks leave of court to amend this when same is ascertained.

Community property and debts are defined on the property division page. If unknown or unsure, the filing party should state the following, “The nature and extent of community property assets and debts are unknown to Petitioner at this time; Petitioner asks leave of court to amend this when same is ascertained.

Step 2: Summons

Issued by the clerk, a summons orders the opposing party to file a response within 30 days of service of the initial paperwork. When the summons is issued by the court, automatic restraining orders are placed upon each party.

Unless there is a court order or written consent from the other party, a restraining order prevents the following:

  • Removing minors (children under the age of 18) from the state.
  • Replacing, or applying for, passports for minor children.
  • Making changes to insurance beneficiaries or coverage such as health, life, auto, or disability insurance - which should be held for designated parties and their children under the age of 18. These changes may include: cashing, borrowing against, cancelling, transferring, or disposing of beneficiaries. 
  • Altering personal or real property (shared or separate) without a court order or written consent. This may be done through transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of said property, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life.
  • Creating or modifying a non-probate transfer to a degree which affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without a court order or written consent from the other party involved. Before revocation of a non-probate transfer can take effect or a right of survivorship to property can be eliminated, notice of the change must be filed and served on the party.

The summons also requires each party to notify each other within five business days before incurring any “extraordinary expenditures” made after these restraining orders are effective.

Despite the above, you can use community property, quasi-community property or separate property to pay court costs and attorney fees in your divorce action.

When you are served with the summons, contact an attorney. An attorney can negotiate stipulations with the other party to relieve you from the burden of the automatic restraining order. For example, a business owner may need a stipulation to buy or sell property for business purposes. These transactions may be a violation of the automatic restraining order. Each party, however, can agree to the transactions and transfers if a stipulation is signed by both.

Step 3: If You Have Minor Children

If you have minor children with the other party, you must file a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Enforcement ACT (UCCJEA) form. This document will provide the court with information about each child. You must give each child’s name, age, date of birth, place of birth, and sex, and list each address of the child for the last five years.

The UCCJEA will also require you to provide any known related cases involving your child. For example, if a court in another state or county has previously made a ruling concerning the parties in a family, guardianship, juvenile dependency, adoption, or domestic violence case, you must give the court information regarding that case.

The purpose of requiring this information is to notify the court of a prior court case and prior court orders regarding the children. The above list of cases will give the court relevant information about if each parent will be a suitable candidate for custody and or visitation of the child.


All the above forms must be served on the opposite party along with a blank Response- Marriage (FL-120) and blank (UCCJEA) (FL-105).

You cannot serve your spouse. Only a non-party who is over 18 years old must serve the documents. After serving your spouse, the server must file proof of personal service with the court.

Step 4: Preliminary Disclosures

California Family Code § 2104 requires the petitioner to serve on the respondent within 60 days of filing the petition's preliminary financial disclosures. The respondent must serve the same preliminary disclosures on the petitioner within 60 days of filing the response. These disclosures are not filed with the court. Only a declaration regarding service of the documents, (FL-141) on the other party is required.

The documents that must be produced to the other party include:

A) Income & Expense Declaration (FL-150)

The income and expense declaration may be the single most important document you will file in your Santa Barbara divorce case, so take your time when filling this out.

You will state the following on this important form:

  • Current or most recent employment
  • Educational background and income
  • All sources of income from the month before filing
  • Average income from each source in the last 12 months
  • How much money is in your back account(s)
  • How much your property is worth
  • All monthly expenses

You can avoid costly mistakes by doing the following:

  • Ensure your stated income and expenses are accurately reflected on documents such as bank statements, tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, etc. If information in these documents differs from information on your FL-150, you may have a problem.
  • Ensure your bank deposits do not exceed your stated income. You must disclose all bank statements for at least the past year. If these reflect more income than claimed, you may have a problem. Note: If deposits are gifts from family or other non-income payments, you might need evidence or testimony to prove they are not income.
  • Don’t assume your average income for the past 12 months is the same as last month’s income. Unless your income truly does not fluctuate month-to-month, you are likely to have different values for these sections.
  • Stating expenses as actual when they are estimated. If you estimate even a single item in this section, mark your expenses as estimated. Stating incorrect or misleading expense amounts could cause a court to deem you untrustworthy, or even open you up to a perjury charge.

Why is the Income and Expense Declaration so important? The court will use it to determine how much child support and spousal support (alimony) you or the opposing party will have to pay. This is why you want to be as accurate as possible. Any intentional misrepresentations may result in monetary sanctions imposed against you.

B) FL-160- Property Disclosure or FL-142- Schedule of Debts and Assets

There are 24 sections to list your property and debts on these forms. You will also be required to attach documents to the property disclosure, which you will serve to the other party, but not file in court:

You must attach the following documents to the property disclosure:

  • Deeds and latest lender statement
  • Titles for vehicles, including boats and trailers
  • Latest declaration of life insurance with cash or loan value
  • Latest certificate or statement of stocks, bonds, secured notes, and mutual funds
  • Latest summary plan or benefit statement regarding retirement and/or pension
  • Latest statement of profit-sharing, IRAs, deferred compensation, and annuities
  • Documentation of accounts receivable and unsecured notes
  • Most recent K-1 and Schedule C (from your tax return) regarding partnerships and other business interests
  • Most current statements, titles, or declarations of other assets
  • Orders and statements for support arrearages
  • Last statements for all credit cards and other debts

C) Other requirements for preliminary disclosures:

Some documents that may also be required for disclosure are the following:

  • Two years of tax returns filed two years before the disclosure documents were served
  • Statement of material facts and information regarding the valuation of all community property assets, or those that might have a community interest
  • Statement of material facts and information regarding community obligations
  • Accurate and complete written disclosure of investment opportunities or other income-producing opportunities from the marriage date to the date of separation

Step 5: Discovery

Each party has the right to propound discovery on the other party. Discovery allows each party to inquire more about the other’s case. Common discovery devices are Interrogatories (FL-145) for demand for production of documents and other special interrogatories, as well as Requests for Admission (DISC-020) for depositions, notices to appear at trials or hearings, and to produce documents.

CCP 1987 requires a party to bring documents and appear at a hearing if notice has been given at least 30 days before the hearing (add five more days if service is by mail).

Step 6: Peace Class

This Peace class is a co-parenting class.

Step 7: Child Custody Mediation

Mediation is a meeting attended by the parties and a neutral third party through family court services to negotiate and attempt to settle child custody and visitation issues. Although this step in the process can be voluntary and lead toward a settlement, the Court can also require this step. The goal of mediation, oftentimes, is to help both parties realize the strengths of their arguments and seek possible resolutions that won’t require further involvement with the Court.

Step 8: Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC)

If you believe your case is ready for trial, file local form SC-4014, Request For Case Management Conference/Trial Setting. At this hearing, the court will set an MSC and trial date.

Pursuant to Local Rule 1423, no less than five court days before the MSC, each party shall lodge with the court and serve on the other party:

  1. An MSC statement listing the contested issues and proposals to resolve those issues.
  2. A current Income and Expense Declaration and a current DissoMaster printout if child support and or spousal support are at issue.

At the MSC, come prepared to discuss the issues and see if you can resolve the case. There are uncertainties that come with going to trial. If you can resolve the matter on favorable terms without going to trial, that is always the best option.

The court requires the parties, the attorneys, and a court-appointed mediator to attempt to resolve the case, if informal mediation fails.

Step 9: Trial

If the parties cannot settle their case, a trial where the parties and witnesses answer questions from the attorneys and evidence is submitted to the court. The judge makes a decision based on the presentation of testimony and evidence.

Step 10: Judgment After Trial

The specific language in the judgment will be critical to your future. Treat the judgment as your bible, which you must follow. If you violate any terms of the judgment, you could be held in contempt of court. Additionally, you may face negative financial and other consequences. When agreeing to the judgment, have your lawyer go over every section to ensure you understand your obligations. If you don’t agree, negotiate or submit the issue to the judge for a decision.

Be advised this list is not exhaustive. Factual circumstances will vary and require specific procedures. This is for informational purposes only and should not be relied prior to, or in place of, consulting with legal counsel.

Final Disclosures

At least 45 days before your first assigned trial date, each party must exchange final disclosures and a final declaration of disclosure (FL-141).

If the opposing party failed to file a response within 30 days of being served, you can file a default judgment against them. If the paperwork is filed properly, the court will enter a judgment and the divorce will be complete. In California, at least six months from the date of filing must elapse before the parties are deemed divorced.

The following forms need to be filed:

Spousal Support Forms

Child Custody Forms

Child Support Forms

Property Division Forms

If a party has responded and you are both in agreement about all issues, the parties may enter into a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). The MSA should be drafted by an attorney who knows the proper language given your factual situation. If there are pensions or retirement accounts that need to be divided, it is important that an attorney help you through the process of properly drafting a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

Contact Morales Law at (805) 422-7966 to learn how this may apply to your situation and how we might help with your divorce in Santa Barbara.

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