California Divorce Law

This introductory guide is designed to help you navigate your way through the legal separation process in California.

Divorce and legal separations can often be complicated and draining processes. Along with the emotional upheaval they bring, you also have to consider family, finances, living arrangements, and property distribution. However, if you take the time to inform yourself about the process, and get the right kind of legal help, you can reduce the chances of having a difficult experience turn into a traumatic one. 

There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: 

Divorce

California is a “no-fault” state when it comes to divorce. This means that neither spouse or partner has to prove that the other is to blame, or at fault for the breakdown in the marriage/domestic partnership. It is only necessary for one spouse/partner to declare “irreconcilable differences”.

At the same time, it is not necessary for both parties to agree to a divorce. If one spouse decides to go through the divorce process, the other spouse cannot stop it. In this scenario, the other spouse/partner can still obtain a “default” judgment. 

Legal Separation

The difference between divorce and legal separation is that legal separations do not end with the termination of marital status. The process for legal separation is the same as with divorces, such as dividing assets and debts. However, the marriage would still be legally binding. Therefore, the spouses would have to obtain a divorce before they could legally remarry.

Legal separations can be are often preferable to divorce for reasons such as insurance purposes or religious beliefs. It can also be preferable to divorce for people from a different county to the one they currently reside in. These are a few of the cases where it is beneficial for the parties to choose not to terminate the marriage.

Annulment

An annulment happens when a court determines that a marriage or domestic partnership was never actually legally valid. It is as if the marriage or partnership as if it never happened in the first place. Here are some of the reasons why a marriage may be annulled: 

  • Incestuous
  • Bigamous
  • Illegal age at the time of marriage or domestic partnership
  • Existing marriage or domestic partnership
  • Unsound mind
  • Fraud
  • Force
  • Physical incapacity

An annulment can only be obtained by proving to a judge that one of these reasons is true in the case of your marriage. For this reason, an annulment is more complicated than a standard divorce case.

What to Expect

In California, eligibility for divorce depends on the amount of time you have been a resident within the state. The process will also differ based on which county you have been residing in. 

Either the spouse filing for divorce (the petitioner) or the spouse responding to the divorce (the respondent) has to have been a California resident for at least six months. One of them must also have been a resident for at least three months in the county where the divorce is filed. 

California has a 6 month waiting period before a judge will decree a divorce. This same time frame does not hold for a legal separation which can be quicker. Before the 6 month waiting period begins, the petitioner must have filled the divorce papers with the court and served the papers to their spouse. The six month waiting period begins once this process is complete.

Grounds for Divorce

Once it is processed and the waiting period is over, a judge will decree a divorce. A court must have grounds to decree a divorce. California has two clear grounds for divorce: incurable insanity and irreconcilable differences. The second of these is the most common and means the spouses’ relationship has broken down to the point that it cannot be repaired. 

The amount you will pay to the court in paperwork fees is dependent on which county you file your case in. There are financial situations in which a court will grant a petitioner a waiver for the cost of the processing fees. 

If you are going through a divorce or legal separation we advise you to seek legal help. A legal expert can help make a difficult situation that little bit easier. 

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