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 the U.S., is a “no-fault” state. This means the party requesting the divorce need not prove any fault by the other in order to get divorced.
(In the old days, the spouse would usually have to prove harm caused by the other spouse in the form of adultery, abuse, fraud, or abandonment. Thankfully, a party can now simply cite irreconcilable differences!)
Grounds for legal 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 can impact other matters, such as custody or alimony. This is particularly true if evidence of abuse exists.
If you have questions about the facts and circumstances of your divorce and how it might affect the outcome of your case, seek the advice of a competent, licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction.
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.
The separation option
A divorce or annulment is the only final way to end a marriage. It’s the only way you can marry again, if you want to. But you can also legally separate. Why would a couple choose to separate instead of divorce, and what does this entail?
A couple who just moved to California cannot yet file for divorce, but they can file for legal separation. Why? In California, you must 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.
A legal separation might also be a good option for couples who are not quite ready to divorce 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 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 a divorce. 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.
The annulment option
There are four scenarios in which an annulment could be granted:
- 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, licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction will be able to help if you want to end your marriage by annulment or discuss the most appropriate way to end your relationship.