Types of Divorce in California
There are three ways to end a marriage in California: You can get divorced, legally separate, or get an annulment.
Only one party needs to want to end the marriage or domestic partnership, and no agreement is necessary to file a divorce petition. California is a "no-fault" state. This means the petitioner (the party requesting the divorce) need not prove any divorce grounds, or fault by their spouse (the respondent) in order to get divorced.
In the old days, the petitioner would usually have to prove harm caused by the other spouse in the form of adultery, domestic violence, fraud, or abandonment. Thankfully, a party can now simply cite irreconcilable differences.
Option 1: Divorce
If you want the most permanent end to your marriage and do not qualify for an annulment, there are several types of divorce in the state of California.
Divorces in California are granted either on the grounds of "no-fault" or "incurable insanity." The latter is extremely rare. Therefore, you do not need to worry about providing evidence of bad behavior for your divorce to be granted.
However, the behavior of the other party can impact other matters, such as custody or spousal support (alimony). This is particularly true if evidence of abuse exists. If you have questions about the facts and circumstances of your divorce and how they might affect the outcome of your case, seek the advice of a licensed divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction.
Uncontested vs. contested divorce
If you and your spouse agree on everything (or can reach a resolution out of court, perhaps with the help of a mediator), you can file an uncontested divorce. If you cannot agree on one or more matters you must account for in your settlement agreement (division of property and child custody are common pain points) and will need the court to decide for you, you’ll need to file a contested divorce. Settling out of court and with an uncontested divorce is almost always easier, faster, and less expensive. Read more about the differences here.
Simplified/faster California divorce: Summary dissolution
Summary dissolution is a kind of divorce that has advantages over a standard divorce – most notably, it's quicker and easier. While you still need to observe the mandatory waiting period of six months before your divorce is finalized, there is a lot less paperwork and complexity. You must meet nine criteria to file for a summary dissolution, including having no children and minimal assets.
Aside from divorce, as mentioned, there are two ways to break ties with your spouse: legal separation and annulment. Let's explore these two options.
Option 2: Legal separation
A divorce or annulment is the only truly final way to end a marriage and the only way you can marry again if you want to. But you can also legally separate if you want or need a less permanent, binding way to end your marriage.
Why would a couple choose to separate instead of going through the divorce process, and what does this entail?
Scenario one: You haven't met the residency requirement to file for divorce.
A couple who just moved to California cannot yet file for divorce, but they can file for legal separation. Why? California law requires you to meet specific residency requirements to file for divorce. A legal separation does not impose these same requirements. Until residence requirements are met, therefore, it may be prudent to legally separate.
Scenario two: You're not quite ready to divorce but want separate lives.
A legal separation might be a good option for couples who are not quite ready to draw up divorce papers but want to divide property and live apart. This solution may work for people who need to remain married for immigration or healthcare purposes.
In a legal separation, parties can agree on the division of community property or petition the court to divide it for them. Along with property, an order can be entered stating how each spouse will help meet community obligations such as mortgage payments, health insurance, utilities, taxes, and debts. The separation order can also establish how property will be managed. That is, it can specify who can access certain bank accounts, property, and motor vehicles. Even child custody and visitation can be included in a legal separation order.
What we've just described is the dirty work and heavy lifting usually involved in the divorce process. Thus, if parties can get along reasonably well and come to a separation agreement, finalizing the divorce a few months (or even years) later will be much easier.
Option 3: Annulment
Getting an annulment is more difficult than you’d expect, but it’s an appealing divorce option if you qualify for one. There are four scenarios in which a judge could grant an annulment:
- The parties are involved in an incestuous or bigamous relationship. That is, they are closely related to each other, or a spouse is already married to someone else.
- A spouse was a minor at the time of the marriage.
- One of the parties lacked the mental capacity to marry. (This is legally called an "unsound mind.")
- One of the parties was physically incapable of consummating the marriage.
For an annulment to occur, the petitioner must prove at least one of these conditions exists. This can be difficult, and the rules of evidence can be confusing. A competent family law attorney in your jurisdiction will be able to help if you want to end your marriage by annulment or discuss other divorce options.
What about spousal support (alimony)?
Now that you know your options for ending your marriage, you’re probably wondering if you’re entitled to (or likely to have to pay) spousal support. It’s determined on a case-by-case basis based on maintaining a quality of life, fairness, and economic need. The recipient of spousal support is almost always expected to eventually become financially independent. Read more about spousal support here. You can also read up on child support if that is likely to be part of your divorce case.