There are three ways to end a marriage in California – you can get divorced, legally separated, or have an annulment. Only one party needs to want to end the marriage, and no agreement is necessary. California, like every other state in U.S., is a ‘no-fault’ state, which means that the party requesting the divorce does not have to prove any fault by the other in order to grant a divorce. In the old days, the spouse would usually have to show he or she was harmed by the other spouse committing adultery, abuse, fraud or abandonment. Thankfully, these days a party can simply cite ‘irreconcilable differences.’
Divorces in California are granted either on the grounds of ‘no fault’ or incurable insanity (which is extremely rare). Therefore, you do not need to worry about providing evidence of bad behavior in order to get a divorce granted. However, the behavior of the other party can have an effect on other matters, such as custody, or alimony, particularly if there is evidence of abuse on the part of the other spouse. If you have questions about the facts and circumstances of your divorce and how it might affect the outcome of your case, it is prudent to seek out the advice of a competent, licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction.
A divorce or annulment is the only final way to end a marriage, meaning you can actually get remarried. There are specific residency requirements to file for a divorce in California. A legal separation does not have these same requirements – therefore, if a couple has just moved to California, they can file for separation until one of them has reached the residency requirements. A legal separation might be also be a good option for couples who are not quite ready to be fully divorced, but want to divide up property and live apart before terminating their marital status. Sometimes this is a good option for people who need to remain married for immigration or healthcare purposes. In a legal separation, parties can either agree on the division of their property, or petition the court to do it for them. Along with property, an order can be entered stating how each spouse will pay their community obligations, such as mortgage payments, health insurance, utilities, taxes and debts. The separation order will also be able to determine how property will be managed – that is, who will have access to certain bank accounts, real property or even who can use motor vehicles. Even child custody and visitation can be included in these orders. This is the dirty work and heavy lifting usually involved in a divorce. Thus, if parties can get along reasonably well and come to a separation agreement, finalizing the divorce in a few months (or even years) will be much easier.
An annulment will always be granted for parties involved in an incestuous or bigamous relationship – that is, if they are closely related to their spouse, or their spouse is already married to someone else. Annulments can also be granted if a spouse was a minor at the time of the marriage, one of the parties did not have the capacity to marry (legally called an “unsound mind”), or even physical incapacity of consummating the marriage. The petitioner must prove that at least one of these reasons exists for an annulment. This can be difficult, and the rules of evidence can be confusing. A competent, licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction will be able to help if you want you want to end your marriage by annulment, or discuss the most appropriate way to end your relationship.