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Grounds for Divorce in California

Why are you getting a divorce? In many states, you must detail what went wrong in your marriage and who is to blame. California is different. In California, you can file for divorce without giving a reason why or discussing your marital problems in detail.

A so-called "no-fault divorce" can simplify the ending of your marriage and save you money on legal fees. But you must meet residency requirements to file, and some people are uncomfortable with ending their marriages so completely. California offers other options to help couples like this.

2 grounds for divorce in California

Divorces start with forms. You tell the court about yourself, your marriage, your spouse, and why you'd like to end your marriage. One of the first forms you'll fill out (FL-100) requires a checkbox for divorce grounds. You have two options. 

1. Irreconcilable differences 

California defines irreconcilable differences as issues that are substantial enough to merit the end of a marriage. In other words, if you think your problems are so large that you don't see a way forward with your partner, you have grounds for divorce. 

You're not required to define your differences, and you don't need proof that they exist. If you check the "irreconcilable differences" box, the court system can move forward with your claim. 

2. Permanent legal incapacity to make decisions

California law requires proof that one member of the marriage is incapable of making legal decisions. A doctor or psychiatrist must provide evidence of this incapacity, and that person must state that the problem was present when you filed and will remain present permanently.

It's difficult to prove that someone is legally incompetent and will never get better. Choose this route, and you'll likely spend a lot of time with doctors and lawyers. And the judge might still decide that you don't have grounds for divorce. 

Thankfully, you're not required to choose this option. Even if your partner has some mental health issues that trouble your marriage, you don't need to define them and prove they exist. Instead, you could claim irreconcilable differences and move forward accordingly.

How California's no-fault rules simplify your divorce

California is one of just a few no-fault states that don't impose penalties for bad behavior and poor decisions. Anyone meeting residency requirements can file for divorce, and no one has to prove someone did something wrong. Couples can even get divorced if one party doesn't want to participate in the process. 

California's no-fault status goes hand in hand with the state's community property laws. Courts in California divide a couple's property into two categories:

  • Community: Items couples own together, and debts they accrue as a couple, fall into this category.
  • Separate: Items and debts couples bring into the marriage, along with gifts and inheritance funds, fit into this category.

During a divorce, separate items remain separate. Couples split community assets and debts 50/50.

A no-fault divorce makes this process simple. The two parties may fight over what is community property and what should remain separate, but they can’t use guilt and blame to grab a bigger piece of the estate. The law simply doesn’t work that way. 

Are you eligible for divorce in California?

You're not required to prove that anyone made terrible mistakes to file for divorce in California. But you must meet strict eligibility requirements. 

To file, either you or your spouse must prove the following:

  • You have lived in California for the past 6 months.
  • You have lived in your current county for the past 3 months.

Same-sex couples have slightly different rules. If you married in California but live in a state that doesn’t allow for same-sex divorce, you can file in California in the county where you married.

2 alternatives to divorce in California 

Contemplating divorce is difficult, and some people struggle to meet requirements or have trouble ending a marriage due to their religious beliefs. California offers two options that could be helpful. 

1. Legal separation

In a legal separation, couples stay married but set up separate households. Courts divvy up assets and debts, just as they would in a normal divorce. But couples could stay connected to insurance programs or benefit plans with this method, as they're technically still married. 

To apply for a legal separation, you must live in California now. But you're not required to prove how long you've lived within the state. Some couples file for separation because they're not eligible to file for divorce yet. 

2. Summary dissolution 

Couples who were married within the past 5 years, have no children, and own relatively little together can file for a summary dissolution. Essentially, they ask the court to invalidate the marriage.

A dissolution is a lot like a divorce, but it requires less paperwork and hassle. And some couples find that this option is acceptable on religious grounds, where a divorce is not. 

References

FL-100. Judicial Branch of California. 
California Family Code 2311. Casetext. 
California Family Code 2312. Casetext. 
Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
Property and Debts in a Divorce. Judicial Branch of California. 
Legal Separation. Judicial Branch of California. 
Find Out If You Qualify for Summary Dissolution. Judicial Branch of California.