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ENDING YOUR MARRIAGE IN CALIFORNIA
There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage, and the other spouse/partner, even if he or she does not want to get a divorce, cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.

California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong.  To get a no fault divorce, 1 spouse or domestic partner has to state that the couple cannot get along. Legally, this is called “irreconcilable differences.” Keep in mind that, normally, it does not matter who is the first to file the divorce or separation case. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file or a disadvantage to the person who responds to the case.

I.   DIVORCE
A divorce (also called “dissolution of marriage” or “dissolution of domestic partnership”) ends your marriage or domestic partnership (or both if you are both married and in a domestic partnership with your spouse). After you get divorced, you will be single, and you can marry or become a domestic partner again.

You can get a divorce if you say you have “irreconcilable differences” with your spouse or domestic partner. You do not have to give the court any other reason or prove anything. There is no “guilty” or “non-guilty” person, from the court’s point of view. That is why California is called a “no-fault” divorce state.

The only thing the court is interested in is helping the separating spouses or partners reach a fair agreement about how their life will be restructured after the divorce so they can move ahead to rebuild their lives.

When you start a divorce case, you can ask the judge to make orders about:

  • Custody and visitation;
  • Child support;
  • Spousal or partner support;
  • The division of your property; and
  • Who will be responsible for paying debts.

HOW LONG WILL THE DISSOLUTION PROCESS TAKE?
The divorce process will take at least 6 months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets his or her spouse or domestic partner know about the divorce. The case can take longer. It cannot be faster than the 6 months. This is a mandatory waiting period required by California law and no couple can be divorced faster than 6 months. You will be able to get all your paperwork turned in to the court and your divorce judgment approved, but the divorce itself will not be final until at least 6 months after starting the case.

CALIFORNIA RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS FOR DIVORCE
For married persons to get a divorce, you must meet California’s residency requirements. 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 do not meet the residency requirement, 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” and ask the court for a divorce.

Note: there is an exception to this requirement for same-sex married couples who got married in California but do not live in California and live in a state (or states) that will not dissolve a same-sex marriage. Please see the “Domestic Partnership and Same-Sex Family Law Issues” section of our website for more information about this exception.

SUMMARY DISSOLUTION
Some couples that have been married or in a registered domestic partnership for less than 5 years can get a “summary dissolution” as long as they also meet other requirements. A summary dissolution is an easier way to end your marriage or domestic partnership (or both).

II. LEGAL SEPARATION
A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. You cannot marry or enter into a partnership with someone else if you are legally separated (and not divorced). If you ask for a legal separation, you may be able to change to a divorce case later if you meet certain requirements. To get a legal separation, you follow the same basic process used for a divorce.

A couple may decide they want to file for legal separation instead of divorce because:

  • They do not want to get a divorce but want to live apart and get orders from the court about money, property, and parenting issues.
  • They do not want to get a divorce for religious reasons.
  • They do not want to get a divorce because of their personal beliefs.
  • They do not meet the required residency requirements to file for divorce in California, and they cannot or do not want to wait to get the process of separating started.
  • They do not want to divorce because of financial reasons (like, to keep 1 spouse or partner on the other’s health insurance plan or to keep certain benefits that require a couple to remain married).

Like with a divorce, when you get a legal separation, you can ask the judge to make orders about:

  • Custody and visitation;
  • Child support;
  • Spousal or partner support;
  • The division of your property; and
  • Who will be responsible for paying debts.
CALIFORNIA RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS FOR A LEGAL SEPARATION

For married couples to get a legal separation you can file in California if at least 1 of you is living in California. Once enough time has passed so that you meet the residency requirement for a divorce, you can file an “amended petition” and ask the court for a divorce (if you want a divorce).

III.   ANNULMENT
An annulment (or “nullity of marriage” or “nullity of domestic partnership”) is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. After an annulment, it is like your marriage or domestic partnership never happened because it was never legal.

A marriage is NEVER legally valid when it is:

  • Incestuous (between close blood relatives), or
  • Bigamous (where a spouse is already married to, or in a domestic partnership with, someone else).

Other marriages and partnerships can be declared “void” (invalid) because:

  • One of the people was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership.
  • One of the people got married or registered a domestic partnership as a result of force or fraud or while physically or mentally incapacitated.
  • Either side was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. This is different from bigamy (which is automatically illegal) because in this case, the marriage or domestic partnership took place after the former spouse or domestic partner was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead.

To get an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that 1 of these reasons is true in your case. This makes an annulment case very different from a divorce or a legal separation. “Irreconcilable differences” are not a reason for getting an annulment.

Keep in mind that getting an annulment does not depend on how long you have been married. Even if you have been married only a very short time, you may not be able to prove to the judge that your case has 1 of the legal reasons that makes your marriage invalid. Annulments are very rare. If you ask to have your marriage or domestic partnership annulled, you will have to go to hearing with a judge.

 

 

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