Do I Have to Go to Court to Get Divorced?

Posted on May 31, 2020

In our San Francisco divorce and family law practice, a common question that we hear at the beginning of a divorce case is, “do I have to go to court to get divorced?” This question is of great importance during the COVID pandemic, while the courts are running on vastly reduced hours and with limited staff. But the short answer is this: you can get a divorce without going to court, but you’d still be married. You can drive without a license, but you can’t do so legally.

Even if you and your spouse agree on the terms of your separation, you will need to file a Marital Settlement Agreement in court and attach it to a Judgment and several other mandated forms, which will all need to be approved by a judge. So, no, you can’t get divorced without the court. Some of my clients have learned the hard way that it makes more sense to hire my office to prepare their divorce paperwork, even if they and their ex agreed on everything. They’ve had their paperwork kicked back from the court, sometimes several times, because of technical errors in the paperwork. They’ve gotten exhausted by the process, and the process has taken far longer than they expected. During the COVID pandemic, it’s even more critical to get the paperwork right the first time because it’s taking the courts a lot longer to process what comes in. Our office is able and willing to assist, regardless of whether the situation is simply a matter of taking care of the paperwork.

Often, however, our clients can become concerned about getting stuck in a process over which they have no control, and this can include a fear of runaway litigation. I work together with my clients to determine a course of action that makes the most sense given what is taking place in their case at any given time. People sometimes come to my office seeking the most aggressive attorney they can find. Being solely aggressive means that you have one tool in your tool belt. That tool – aggression – can lead a client into court battles that should have never been waged and cost the client tens of thousands of dollars for no reason. Our office is ready to litigate any issue where it is in your interest to do so.

Very often, however, every other possible avenue of conflict resolution should be explored before jumping headlong into a litigated battle. We understand what battles are worth litigating and what their likely outcome will be if litigated versus negotiated and mediated. We negotiate and litigate effectively. If you’re a wise consumer, you’ll be looking for someone who is assertive but has their eyes trained on getting matters resolved in the most efficient manner possible.