The decision to file for divorce may feel like the end of a rough road, but once the decision is made, it’s actually the beginning of another journey—a legal one, that starts with learning where to file for divorce. If you live in Los Angeles County and you’ve made the decision that a divorce from your spouse is inevitable, you might wish to be the petitioner rather than the respondent and file the first paperwork. If so, it helps to understand the best process for taking that critical first step.

Finding Your Courthouse

If you’re certain you meet California’s residency requirement for divorce—which specifies that either you or your spouse must have lived in California for at least the last 6 months and lived in the county where you’ll be filing for at least 3 months—you can file for divorce in California’s LA County. LA County has 37 courthouses, but currently, only 10 of them process divorce cases. You might think the courthouse closest to where you live is the correct choice, but finding the correct jurisdiction actually depends on your zip code.

To find the correct courthouse to file as a petitioner for divorce, you must go to the website for the Los Angeles County Court and find the Filing Locator tool. Then, under “Choice 1” enter your zipcode and click on “Search.” There is no need to enter anything under “Choice 2” or “Community.”

Courthouses in LA County Currently Accepting Divorce Cases

Once you search under your zip code as a petitioner, the tool will show you a list of courthouses. Be sure to select one that’s under the “Family Law” branch. It should be one of the following courthouses:

  • Chatsworth Courthouse
  • Compton Courthouse
  • Long Beach’s Duekmejian Courthouse
  • North District’s Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse
  • Pasadena Courthouse
  • Pomona Courthouse
  • Stanley Mosk Courthouse
  • Torrance Courthouse
  • Van Nuys Courthouse
  • Whittier Courthouse

The LA County Superior Court offers downloadable forms you can fill out and file at the courthouse of your jurisdiction, however, it’s almost always unwise to do this without a lawyer.

Forms Needed for Filing for Divorce in LA County

Your Los Angeles divorce attorney can ensure that you’ve met all requirements for properly filing and then represent your best interests throughout the process to help you achieve your desired outcome. You will also have to pay a filing fee at the courthouse. The forms you’re required to fill out include:

  • FL-100 Grounds for Divorce Petition
  • FL-160 Property Declaration
  • FL-110 Summons to be served to your spouse to inform him/her
  • FL-115 Proof of Service
  • FL-105 Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody and Enforcement (if you have children)
  • Optional FL-311 form with a proposed schedule for child custody and visitation

Serving the Respondent

A lawyer can also help you with the all-important process of serving your spouse with divorce papers. The court requires the petitioner to give the respondent notice of the process and allow them a chance to respond. Serving a respondent can happen in the following ways:

  • Personal, hand-delivered service through a process server
  • Service by mail requiring a response
  • Substituted service to another member of the respondent’s family or household only after 3 failed attempts to serve
  • Service by certified mail to an out-of-state spouse
  • Posted notice at the courthouse (if all of the above methods fail)
  • Service by publication (informing the spouse through a newspaper ad if the above methods fail)
  • The Hague Convention process for serving a respondent in another country

After filing a petition and serving your spouse, you’ve taken the first big steps toward your new life. An attorney can help you negotiate a divorce settlement under California’s 50/50 marital property law if possible, or defend your interests in court.