Types of Divorce in California

There are three ways to end a marriage in California: You can divorce, legally separate, or get an annulment.

Only one party must want to end the marriage or domestic partnership for the union to end, 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) 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 person can now simply cite irreconcilable differences to get the divorce they want.

California divorce residency requirements

If you choose to file for a divorce, you must meet the state’s formal residency requirements. These rules ensure that the courts have the right to make decisions about your estate, shared children, and more. This involves a six-month residency in the state by at least one of the two divorcing spouses.

Your options at a glance

We’ll explain every type of divorce in detail, but this chart can help you understand what sets each choice apart:


Who is it for?



No-fault divorce

Anyone who meets residency requirements

California’s default form of divorce

No "revenge" on your partner for bad behavior (like adultery)

Uncontested divorce

People who agree on all parts of their divorce

One of the quickest paths to divorce in California

Must collaborate with your partner and be prepared to negotiate

Contested divorce

People who can’t agree on some or all parts of their divorce

Allows you to argue your side of things in court

This can be an expensive and time-consuming option

Summary dissolution

People with short marriages that didn’t produce children

An easier way to get divorced than the other options available

Not everyone qualifies for this type of divorce

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.

No-fault divorce

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 could potentially 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 require the court to decide for you, you’ll need to file a contested divorce.

Settling out of court with an uncontested divorce is almost always easier, faster, and less expensive. Read more about the differences here.

Simplified California divorce: Summary dissolution

Summary dissolution is a kind of divorce that offers several 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 to deal with.

You must meet seven criteria to file for a summary dissolution, including the following:

  • You meet California’s divorce residency requirement.
  • You have been married less than five years.
  • You share no children.
  • You do not own or lease real estate.
  • You owe less than $7,000 together (excluding car loans).
  • You have less than $53,000 both together and separately (including retirement accounts).
  • You both agree to the terms of the divorce.

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.

Read: Legal Separation in California

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 is likely to be much easier.

Option 3: Annulment

Getting an annulment is more difficult than some people expect, but it’s an appealing option if you qualify for it. 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 may be of help if you want to end your marriage by annulment or discuss other divorce options.

Read: Annulment of Marriage in California

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, and the determination is 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

Have questions about your divorce options? Schedule a free 15-minute call with Hello Divorce, or book time with a divorce attorney if you need legal advice.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to prove that my partner did something wrong to get a divorce?

No. California is a no-fault state, meaning you can tell the court you’d like to get a divorce because you have differences you can’t resolve. Your partner can’t dispute this claim, so the divorce can move forward, even if one of you doesn’t want it to.

What’s the fastest way to get a divorce in California?

A summary dissolution is typically the quickest way to end a marriage, but not everyone is eligible.

Why is an uncontested divorce faster than a contested divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, people collaborate on their split and make arrangements involving their assets, debts, and children. Because they are able to have these collaborative conversations, they don’t need to go to court to argue for their rights. A split like this is much faster as a result.

What’s the difference between a divorce and an annulment in California?

In a divorce, people in a valid marriage work together to end it. In an annulment, people are in a marriage that was never legally binding due to an issue like incest or deception. At the end of a successful annulment, it’s as though the two parties were never married.

Glossary of legal terms

These are a few of the phrases you might hear when you’re researching types of divorce in California:

  •   Divorce: People in a valid marriage end it via a legal process.
  •   Legal separation: People in a valid marriage don’t meet residency requirements for divorce, or they aren’t ready to divorce but want to live separately. They split their estate and make child custody arrangements, but they remain legally married.
  •   Annulment: People are in a marriage that isn’t legally valid, and they ask the court to fix the error.
  •   Alimony: One party pays the other to fix a financial imbalance between them. This is also called spousal support.
  •   Petitioner: This is the person who files divorce paperwork.
  •   Respondent: This is the person who receives divorce paperwork.


Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California.
Find Out if You Qualify for Summary Dissolution. Judicial Branch of California.


Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.