Divorce Law in Southern California
Although it is never the intended outcome, unfortunately, many marriages end in divorce. There are over 2.1 million marriages in the U.S. 6.5 out of every 1,000 people are married, and 2.96 out of every 1,000 people get divorced.
Going through a divorce can be one of the most challenging times in a person’s life. There are many legal and financial issues you have to consider. For example, how will property and debt be split between you and your spouse? If you have children, there are issues involving custody, visitation, and support. Will you or your spouse receive alimony, and if so, how much? To understand the facts and navigate the process of divorce in California, you should consult an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible.
How to File for Divorce in California
To file for divorce in a California court, at least one of the two parties to the divorce must have lived in California for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. Also, you must file in a specific county within the state. To be eligible to file in any county in California, at least one of the spouses must have lived in that county for three months before filing for divorce.
Grounds for Divorce in California
People get divorced for a wide variety of reasons. Perhaps they married too young, lacked commitment, were unfaithful, or argued about money. All divorces in California are “no-fault,” which means that the spouse who files for divorce does not have to establish that the other spouse was somehow at fault. Generally, the spouse who files for divorce does so on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” This means the couple is unable to resolve their differences and save the marriage. The fault does not matter. For example, if one person had an affair in a no-fault divorce, the judge will not take that under consideration when dividing property or determining support. California’s law does not punish the party who has an affair with less property or more pay support because of an affair.
Both spouses or partners do not have to agree to end the marriage. If one spouse or partner chooses to end the marriage, the other cannot stop the process. If the responding spouse or domestic partner chooses to not be involved in the divorce, the other will be able to complete the divorce by means of a default judgment.
California divorce process
It is important to know that there is a mandatory six-month waiting period after filing before the divorce is finalized. To start the legal process, one of the spouses files in the superior court in their county of residence. The spouse who files for divorce is called the petitioner and the spouse who responds is known as the respondent.
Whether in a marriage or registered domestic partnership, basically, there are three ways to dissolve the legal bond in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. A legal separation does not permanently end the marriage. However, it does allow you to live separately and settle issues concerning child custody and finances. A person who is legally separated cannot remarry or enter into a domestic partnership without a divorce. People sometimes choose this option for religious reasons. An annulment is based on the concept that the marriage was not legally valid. It is as if the marriage never existed. There are several reasons where this could be the case, such as:
- One spouse was under legal age at the time of the marriage.
- One spouse was already married to someone else.
- One spouse was tricked into the marriage by fraud, threats, or force.
- Incestuous marriage is not valid.
- Either partner was considered of “unsound mind,” meaning they did not understand the legal repercussions of marriage.
- The couple does not have sexual intercourse after the wedding.
Summary dissolution in California is a way to end a marriage or a domestic partnership — or in some cases, both — in a quicker, less complicated way. However, it is limited to couples whose marriage or partnership lasted five years or less, and that have no children, relatively few assets and debts. A summary dissolution usually does not require a court appearance. The spouses must reach an agreement about how the division of property and debts. This agreement is filed with the court, together with a joint divorce petition and other forms. This avoids some of the procedures needed for a traditional divorce, but you still have to wait six months before your divorce becomes final.
If you don’t qualify for a summary dissolution, a typical divorce requires the following steps:
- After filing, the petitioner must serve the respondent with copies of the petition to divorce as well as any other relevant paperwork.
- The respondent must file an answer to the petition within thirty days.
- Upon request, the judge may make temporary court orders regarding child custody, support, and restraining orders.
- The spouses then engage in discovery, which is the process by which they exchange information and documents that are relevant to the divorce. The parties must exchange financial information, such as income and expense declarations. Each party must prepare a court form known as Declarations of Disclosure. These financial statements set forth the parties’ income, expenses, assets, and debts.
- After the discovery is complete, the spouses and their attorneys use this information to negotiate a settlement of the case. If the parties reach an agreement on the issues, they will sign a Marital Settlement Agreement.
- In some cases, the parties may agree to resolve their issues by mediation.
- If the parties are not able to agree on all of the issues in the case, a trial will take place.
- Once the parties have agreed on a settlement or the trial is over, the judge will sign a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, which is filed with the court.
If you are in a domestic partnership, you should consult an attorney regarding matters such as Medicare, veterans’ benefits, and federal tax laws.
Divorce can be highly stressful. If you are planning to get a divorce, you should consult an attorney who has the necessary skill, experience, and resources to guide you through the legal process and protect your rights. In the course of your divorce, you will face many sensitive and difficult issues. Therefore, to resolve your issues in a timely, cost-effective, and satisfactory manner, it is important to work with someone who you trust and can talk to. Are you facing a divorce? You are not alone — we are here for you. For more information, please call the Law Offices of Susan J. Wolf at (818) 992-1182 or (760) 285-8225 or contact us online.
- Negotiate child support and spousal support payments
- Negotiate the division of property and marital assets
- Help with complex high asset divorce matters
Call today to talk to a compassionate lawyer about your needs and concerns.