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12 Important Things to Know If You're Getting a Divorce in California

Divorce laws and procedures can vary quite a bit from state to state, with some being more regulated than others. California divorce law can be complicated, but we’re breaking down all the important laws and things to know for you. 

California divorce laws fall under the California Family Code. This code is a group of legislative acts that cover everything related to family law. From defining terms like “custody” and “visitation” to providing a complex formula on how to calculate child support, the California Family Code includes everything related to a divorce.

If you’re going through a divorce in California, it’s vital that you understand the laws and other protocols that may affect you. Here are 12 of the most important things you need to know about divorce in California.

1. You may qualify for a “quickie divorce” with a summary dissolution

If you meet the nine criteria, you might be able to speed up the process with a summary dissolution. In general, couples without children and with few assets qualify. See the nine criteria here.

2. You cannot serve your spouse the divorce papers on your own

No one listed in the divorce court case can serve the divorce petition. See who can serve your papers here.

3. California Family Law Act 

Thanks to the California Family Law Act of 1969, California is a no-fault state. This means that the spouse filing the petition for dissolution of marriage doesn’t have to allege or prove that the other person did something wrong that led to the end of the marriage.

While you can file a fault divorce and allege your spouse did something wrong (and there may be a good reason to do so if abuse or misuse of financial resources occured), you don’t have to. You can simply say your marriage is irretrievably broken, and the court won’t stand in your way. 

It’s also important to note that your spouse doesn’t have to agree with your desire to get a divorce. You can get divorced even if your spouse doesn’t want to. While this creates some hurdles and could cause your divorce to take longer, cost more, and be more stressful, you can still get a divorce. 

4. Spousal support (Family Code Section 4320)

Spousal support, also called alimony, comes in several forms. Courts consider many factors when determining whether and how much alimony to award one spouse. A judge will look at the following:

  • One spouse’s need for alimony and the other spouse’s ability to pay
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The debts and assets of each spouse
  • The earning ability of each spouse

Spousal support can be for a fixed amount of time or indefinite. It can also be modified as circumstances change over time. 

5. Domestic partners (Family Code Section 143)

This California law clarified the meaning of the word “spouse” to include registered domestic partners. All references to “husband” and “wife” in the family code now apply to domestic partners as well.

6. Child support (Family Code 4055)

California law requires courts to use the provided formula to calculate the amount of child support in a given case. The formula is quite complicated, but it considers the following:

  • Each parent’s present income
  • Each parent’s other sources of income
  • Each parent’s investments
  • Each parent’s benefits through work, especially healthcare
  • The amount of parenting time each parent has with their child

When a court determines child support in your case, it is binding, but it’s not set in stone. Given a change in circumstances, your child support amount could also change. Be aware that if you receive child support from your child’s other parent, you cannot refuse them visitation time if they’re late or behind on child support payments. You may go before a judge, who can take legal action on your behalf, but you cannot unilaterally decide to withhold parenting time. 

7. Attorney’s fees (Family Code Section 271)

If you’re going through a divorce and you’re using a lawyer, it can get expensive. Though it may be necessary to have a lawyer at your side, you may not be able to pay. Under this code, you may be able to request your spouse pay your attorney’s fees.

When you make this request, the court will consider whether you are unable to pay for an attorney. They will also consider whether your spouse is financially able to pay for their lawyer and for yours. 

8. Date of separation (Family Code Section 70)

When spousal support, property, or debt are at issue in a divorce case, the date of separation is a crucial piece of information. Spousal support duration largely depends on the length of the marriage, so the date of separation is important to this calculation. Property and debt are generally considered separate if they were acquired after the date of separation and not subject to marital distribution.

So what qualifies as separation? Under this section, the date of separation is when one spouse expressed to the other their intent to end the marriage. But words aren’t enough. That spouse must also take action, such as moving out of the house or seeking advice from a divorce lawyer.

9. Dividing stock options (Marriage of Nelson (1986) 177 CA3d 150)

Stock options are community property to the extent they are attributable to services rendered during the marriage and before the parties’ separation (even if exercisable at a later time). In apportioning community and separate property interests in stock options, the court doesn’t have a fixed rule. The judge must adopt an equitable method of apportionment.

Often, the court looks at the ratio that the time worked between the date of the stock grant and the date of separation bears to the time worked between the date of the grant and the date the option was first exercisable.

10. Child custody (Family Code Sections 3002 – 3007

In these code sections, you’ll find the legal definitions of both types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody is often shared by both parents and involves the health, safety, and welfare of the child. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. Physical custody is most often held by just one parent, with the other parent having equal or close to equal visitation time.

11. Property reimbursement (Marriage of Epstein (1979) 24 C3d 76)

This case authorizes (but doesn’t mandate) one spouse to be reimbursed by the other spouse for using post-separation funds (usually earnings) to pay community (joint) debts and bills.

12. Omitted assets (Family Code Section 2556)

Forgot to divide an asset or even list it in the judgment? This law gives the court the ability to divide any community estate assets or liabilities that weren’t previously divided in the divorce action.

The court will either divide the asset or debt equally or, if they find good cause that the interests of justice require an unequal division of the asset or liability, the asset or debt may be divided differently or even assigned to one spouse in its entirety.

Divorce is overwhelming for anyone … but if you aren’t a California lawyer, it may feel downright insurmountable. Hello Divorce is here to help. We’ve got the expertise to answer all of your questions and the affordable online divorce plans to help you get the job done right.