California Divorce & Separation
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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California is a state of innovation, even when it comes to the divorce process. If you qualify, you may be able to seek a summary dissolution, or a simplified California divorce procedure, thereby saving time and money (see below). Otherwise, California legal separations and California divorce rules and laws are similar to other states. You will find valuable information below about California divorce grounds, residency and filing, California summary dissolution, California divorce mediation and California annulments. Check the links at the bottom of this page for information about California divorce and finances, California child custody and California child support, and other California divorce resources.
California Legal Separation:
A legal separation in California does not end a marriage. You may not enter into a new marriage if you are legally separated. In California, you may file for a legal separation with your local Superior Court. Whether or not you are legally separated from your spouse could have a significant impact on the division of property, finances and debts. In a community property state, such as California, property that is acquired after legal separation is separate property. See Dividing Up Property in a Divorce: Community Property vs. Equitable Distribution. For more information about the differences between divorce, separation and annulment, see Ending a Marriage or Taking a Break.
Grounds for Divorce/Fault – No Fault:
California is a no-fault state. For more information about what that means, see The Divorce Process: From Separation to Final Judgment. Your grounds (or reasons) for wanting a divorce are set out in a document called Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that you file with your local Superior Court. “Dissolution of Marriage” is just a fancy legal term for divorce. Once the judgment for dissolution of the marriage is granted (i.e. the judge approves your divorce), you will become an unmarried person again. Appropriate grounds for divorce in California are: 1) irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage; or 2) incurable insanity.
Residency/Where to File for Divorce:
One of the parties to the marriage must have been a resident of California for six months and a resident of the county in which the petition is filed for the three months preceding the filing. You will file your paperwork with the Superior Court of California for the county in which you or your ex-spouse resides. The county clerk and his or her assistants will be managing your paperwork with the court. See California Divorce Laws and Resources for information on how to contact your local Superior Court.
Availability of Simplified or Special Divorce Procedures:
If you are seeking a California divorce, you may qualify for a summary dissolution (a fancy legal term for quick divorce), which is a simplified divorce procedure. To qualify, you must meet the following criteria:
1) Be married less than five years from the date you file your Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution;
2) Have no children together that were adopted or born before or during the marriage;
3) Do not own or have any interest in real estate;
4) Do not owe more than $4,000 in debt since the date of marriage, excluding auto loans;
5) Have less than $32,000 worth of property acquired during the marriage, excluding cars;
6) Do not have more than $32,000 in separate property (property a spouse owns separately, such as property acquired before marriage, property earned or received after separation, and property received as a gift or inheritance at any time), excluding money owed on the property or auto loans;
7) Agree that neither spouse will ever receive spousal support;
8) Have signed an agreement dividing up property and debts; 8) Fulfill the residency requirements (see Residency/Where to File, above).
If you meet the above criteria and feel comfortable filing for a divorce on your own, the following services and forms can help you:
California Online Divorce Services:
Divorce Mediation in California:
Mediation is an option that many divorcing couples choose when working out the specific terms of their settlement agreement. It’s less expensive than hiring two lawyers, and perhaps more importantly for the long run, it can keep the parties from becoming adversaries. In California, divorcing parents must attend some type of mediation orientation when there are minor children involved and custody, visitation or both are in any way contested. To find a mediator in your area, see the Local Mediation Programs list from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
An annulment is when a court declares your marriage legally invalid. In other words, rather than ending a marriage by divorce, an annulment is a declaration that the marriage was never valid to begin with. A marriage can be annulled due to incest, bigamy, fraud or incapacity, one spouse was too young to legally marry, or one spouse was already married. Annulments are not that common. To seek an annulment from the Superior Court, you will need to file a Petition for Annulment and attend a hearing with a judge.