Law Office of

Maria Caroline Engfelt

2950 Buskirk Avenue, Suite 315 Walnut Creek, California 94597

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Office: 925-262-8432

Fax: 925-262-8428 Email Us


Step One: Choosing the Proper Court

You will begin by answering a series of questions to make sure that the State of California has "jurisdiction" over your case. In order to file a Petition for Dissolution in California, either you or your spouse must have lived in California for the last 6 months, and the county where you plan to file the divorce for the last 3 months. If you and your spouse have lived in California for at least 6 months but in different counties for at least 3 months you can file in either county. If you don't meet the residency requirements you can still file for a legal separation. Once enough time has passed so that you meet the residency requirement for a divorce, you may file an "amended Petition for Dissolution" and ask the court for a divorce.

Step Two: Preparing the Initial Documents

After determining which is the proper court for your case, Ms. Engfelt will prepare the initial documents to be filed with the court which include the Summons, the Petition for Dissolution, an Income and Expense Declaration if support is being requested, and an Order to Show Cause if temporary orders are being requested.

Step Three: Filing the Initial Documents with the Court

After your initial documents have been prepared, carefully reviewed, and signed by you and Ms. Engfelt, they will be filed with the court clerk. The initial filing fee is currently $395.

Step Four: Serving the Initial Documents

After the documents have been filed with the court, they must be properly served on the other party. There are two ways to meet these "due process" requirements. Either your spouse can choose to accept service by signing a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt (FL-117) or he/she must be formally served with the documents.

Step Five: Entry of Default

If your spouse has either signed a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt or has been formally served with the Summons and Petition and has failed to respond within 30 days, s/he is "in default" and his/her default may upon application to the court, be entered by the court clerk. Once the default has been entered, the Respondent will not be able to participate in the case unless s/he is able to successfully move to have the default vacated or set aside by the court.

Step Six: Preliminary and Final Declarations of Disclosure

It is the policy of the State of California to ensure a proper division of community property and debt and to further ensure that child and spousal support awards are fair and equitable. Temporary child support and spousal support is determined by the court by utilizing a software program called the "DissoMaster TM ". There are several factors taken into consideration by the DissoMaster TM program including but not limited to the following:

  1. Gross monthly income of both parties

  2. Health Insurance Coverage paid each month

  3. Mortgage Interest Payments and Property Taxes paid if any

  4. Time calculated as a percentage that each parent spends with each child

To that end, both parties are required by Family Code §2100 et seq. to exchange documents such as an income and expense declaration where each party lists his/her gross monthly income and monthly expenses, as well as a completed Schedule of Assets and Debts wherein each party is required to list every asset and debt, both separate and community. Please note, California is a community property state, meaning all assets and debts acquired during the marriage are presumed community and all assets and debts acquired before or after the marriage, as well as any gifts or inheritances received during the marriage, are considered separate property. All community assets and debts shall be divided equally unless the parties agree otherwise. In the majority of cases, the parties will only exchange these documents once, known as their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, and will elect to file a Waiver of Final Declaration of Disclosure. However, anytime a party wishes to modify child or spousal support, s/he is required to file a new current income and expense declaration.

Our office will prepare detailed disclosures for you and carefully review the disclosures we receive from the other party with you to ensure that you receive your fair share of the community assets.

Step Seven: Preparing a Marital Settlement Agreement

If the Respondent has been served with the Summons and Petition and s/he has defaulted and your case is not going to settle by way of an agreement, you will skip this step and move to Step Eight. However, if you and your spouse can reach a settlement regarding all issues in your case, Ms. Engfelt will prepare a written Marital Settlement Agreement which is then attached to your Judgment for Dissolution and becomes a court order. Generally the issues covered in a Marital Settlement Agreement are as follows:

  1. Child Custody

  2. Child Support

  3. Child Visitation

  4. Spousal Support

  5. Division of Community Property

  6. Division of Community Debt

  7. Attorney Fees and Costs

Step Eight: Preparing the Wage Assignment (Order to Withhold Income for Child Support)

Whenever a support order is made or modified, the court must include in the order an Order/Notice FL-195 to Withhold Income for Child Support that directs the paying spouse's employer to pay to the party receiving support that portion of the paying spouse's earnings due or to become due as will be sufficient to pay (a) the support amount ordered by the court, and (b) an amount ordered to be paid toward liquidation of any arrearage (any past-due support).

Step Nine: Prepare and File your Judgment of Dissolution

The final goal of the action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or nullity (annulment of the marriage) is to obtain a final Judgment from the court. The Judgment dissolves the marriage and is a court order which resolves the issues between the parties such as child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, debt division, and the payment of attorney fees and costs. Whether you obtain that judgment by entering into a Marital Settlement Agreement or after the other party's default or after hearing of the matter at trial, a Judgment must be prepared for submission to the court.

Step Ten: Serving the Judgment

Where there are orders in the Judgment enforceable by contempt (such as child and spousal support orders or restraining orders) it is imperative that a conformed copy of the Judgment be personally served on the opposing party and that you file with the court a Proof of Service. Failure to properly serve notice of any order enforceable by contempt on the other party may make it impossible for you to bring a contempt action later to enforce it.

Step Eleven: Filing the Child Support Case Registry Form

If the court makes a child support order or a "family support" order containing child support orders, both parties are required to complete and file with the court a Child Support Case Registry Form (Form FL-191) containing information concerning the order to be placed on file with the State of California. This document does not become part of the court's file.

Step Twelve: Serving the Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support

In cases involving child or spousal support, the last step in the process is to serve your spouse's employer with the Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support so that support can be withheld from your spouse's pay check and be sent directly to you. This avoids any problems you might otherwise have collecting support.

Contested Matters

If your case is contested by the other party, depending on the issues involved and the complexity of the case, the following additional steps may need to be taken:

Notice of Motion/Order to Show Cause for Preliminary Orders

You are not required to wait until the end of your case in order for the court to make certain orders. In order for the court to make orders pending the outcome of your case, an Order to Show Cause or Notice of Motion must be filed with the court and a hearing will be set. These hearings last up to 20 minutes. If your case involves more complex issues that will require more than 20 minutes a long cause hearing may be set which is typically heard by the court on its afternoon calendar. Orders that may be made include:

  1. Child Custody, Child Visitation, Child Support

  2. Temporary Spousal Support

  3. Payment of Attorney Fees and Costs

  4. Restraining Orders Against Domestic Violence

  5. Move-out orders

The Discovery Process

"Discovery" is the process by which evidence is gathered by both sides to present to the court at a trial. Discovery may include the following:

  1. Formal or Special Interrogatories: Written questions which must be answered under penalty of perjury.

  2. Depositions: The parties and in some cases third parties may be compelled to appear in the attorney's office to answer questions under oath in front of a court reporter.

  3. Subpoenas: Documents may be subpoenaed from third parties.

  4. Motions to Compel: If the other party fails to answer or respond to discovery requests, it may be necessary to file a Motion to Compel their answers and responses, and the court will also award you attorney fees if you prevail.


If your case does not settle, it may be necessary to try the issues before the court. Ms. Engfelt is an experienced and aggressive trial lawyer with a very successful track record. She will prepare you for trial and make every effort to make you as comfortable with the process as possible. Ms. Engfelt's goal is to ensure that her client's know what to expect the day of trial.

If you are looking for an experienced and compassionate California divorce attorney, please contact the firm today.

Located in Walnut Creek, California, the Law Office of Maria Caroline Engfelt represents clients throughout the East Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area  including Concord, Pleasant Hill, Lafayette, Orinda, Danville, Berkeley, Martinez, Pittsburg, Antioch, Orinda, Vallejo, Piedmont, Hayward, Union City, San Leandro, San Ramon, Oakland, Pleasanton, Brentwood, Oakley, Dublin, and Bay Point. Our representation spans Contra Costa County and Alameda County.

Our office is located at 2950 Buskirk Avenue, Suite 315 Walnut Creek California 94597


Walnut Creek, California Divorce Lawyer

In California, there is no such thing as a "quickie divorce," as the dissolution of a marriage always takes at least six months. However, an experienced and compassionate attorney can help make the entire process much less stressful.

The Law Office of Maria Caroline Engfelt counsels clients facing divorce and its related issues of child custody and child/spousal support. Attorney Engfelt understands that divorce is a traumatic process and accordingly acts both as an advocate and counselor for her clients during this difficult time. She listens to their goals, addresses their concerns and guides them through every step of the divorce process.

Please contact the Walnut Creek firm today to discuss your pressing legal matter.

The Divorce Process

A divorce case in California begins when a party files a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" (Form FL-120) in the Superior Court of the county in which they have resided for the prior 3 months. The party who files the Petition is thereafter the "Petitioner" in the divorce action and the other party is deemed the "Respondent".

The court may resolve any issues between the parties arising out of the marital relationship such as child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, division of community debt (debt incurred by either party during the marriage), or payment of the other party's attorney fees and court costs. If the Respondent fails to file a Response to the Petition, the Petitioner may take his/her default. If the parties can cooperate to settle the case by way of agreement, attorney fees will be minimized. If the Respondent files a Response and contests all of the issues in the case, this will increase the cost of attorney fees.

Therefore, depending on what the Respondent decides to do, there are three ways to resolve the issues in every divorce case.

Default Divorce in California: If the Respondent in the case fails to file a Response to the Petition for Dissolution or Legal Separation within 30 days after being properly served with the Petition, the Respondent's "default" may be entered by the clerk and the matter may proceed without the Respondent's participation.

Uncontested Divorce in California: A case is "uncontested" when the parties work together to settle the issues and enter into a written settlement agreement, known as a Marital Settlement Agreement.

Contested Divorce in California: A case is "contested" when a Response to the Petition is filed and the parties are unable to agree on the issues. In this case, the court must resolve the case for the parties in a trial.

If your divorce is either uncontested or the other party fails to file his or her Response and a Default is taken, the following 12 steps must be taken to obtain your California Divorce.

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The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

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Law Office of Maria Caroline Engfelt

961 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Tel: (925) 262-8432

Fax: (925) 262-8428