Q: Are grounds for divorce required in California?
A: In California, there are two grounds for divorce, which is legally called the “dissolution of marriage” in this state. Most people divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” If someone simply checks that box on a California divorce petition, no further explanation is required, and eventually, the dissolution will be granted.
You may also still divorce on the grounds of “incurable insanity” although that’s extremely rare in California these days, and it requires medical verification. Additionally, there’s a residency requirement for divorce in California. One spouse must be a California resident for at least six months and a resident of the county where the divorce will be filed for at least three months before the divorce petition may be filed.
Q: What rules must be followed during the California divorce process?
A: When the divorce process begins in California, temporary restraining orders go into effect that prohibit both spouses from taking specified actions. Neither spouse, for instance, is permitted to take minor children out of California without the other spouse’s written consent or a court order. Also, in most cases, neither spouse can transfer property or change the beneficiary on a life insurance policy while the temporary restraining orders are in effect.
Q: What are my options regarding legal counsel?
A: The law does not require you to have an attorney’s help in a California divorce proceeding. You can represent yourself, but frankly, it’s never a good idea. Your other alternatives include full representation – letting one attorney handle every aspect of your divorce – or partial representation, where an attorney assists you in a limited capacity with certain parts of the process.
Divorcing couples should also consider arbitration, mediation, and collaborative divorce. Especially when a divorce is uncontested, these options can save both spouses time, money, and considerable emotional grief. In southern California, couples divorcing or considering dissolution would be wise to consult an experienced Orange County divorce attorney who can help them to determine precisely which option is best in their particular circumstances.
Q: Is divorce the only option for ending a marriage in California?
A: No. You can obtain a legal separation, or your marriage may qualify for an annulment. Some couples opt for a legal separation for religious convictions or for reasons linked to insurance or tax benefits. You remain legally married during a legal separation, but the court may divide and distribute marital property and issue determinations regarding spousal support and child custody, visitation privileges, and child support. If you are granted an annulment, it’s as if the marriage never happened. However, only certain marriages qualify for an annulment. Among the reasons that a California judge might grant an annulment request are:
- The marriage is incestuous or bigamous.
- The spouse seeking annulment was not yet age eighteen at the time of the marriage.
- One spouse perpetrated a fraud to obtain the other’s agreement to marry or forced or intimidated the other into the marriage.
- One spouse was “of unsound mind” at the time of the marriage.
- One spouse suffers an “incurable physical incapacity.”
Q: Is there a genuinely simple way to divorce in California?
A: Yes. In California, an uncontested divorce is called a “summary dissolution,” although not every divorcing couple will qualify. If a marriage is eligible for a summary dissolution, the divorcing spouses will have substantially less paperwork, and they will not have to make a court appearance. Both divorcing partners must agree in writing to all of the terms of a summary dissolution, and the marriage must meet these additional conditions:
- There are no minor children, neither spouse is pregnant, and no one seeks spousal support.
- The marriage has lasted less than five years, and the grounds for divorce are irreconcilable differences.
- Apart from car notes, there are no outstanding debts above $6,000, and neither spouse owns any real property apart from a lease under one year.
- Total marital assets are valued below $38,000, including retirement and deferred compensation (but not including vehicles), and neither party owns individual assets valued above $38,000.
Q: I’m ready. How do I file for divorce in California?
A: The smartest first move is meeting with an experienced local divorce lawyer – in Southern California, for example, you would contact an Orange County divorce attorney. You can download the necessary forms or purchase blank copies, but you really should have a divorce attorney prepare a Petition and a Summons on your behalf. You begin the process by filing your Petition and Summons with the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county where you or your spouse reside.
The Summons is a document which informs your spouse that you are filing for a divorce and that he or she will have thirty days to file the Response. In the Response, your spouse will indicate what particular issues are in dispute and will need to be resolved by the court. For example, he or she might object to your request for spousal support or your request for the sole custody of your children. California divorces can be lengthy, and as a rule of thumb, the more there is to dispute, the more likely it is that a divorce will be long and costly. Wherever you can make a compromise agreement with your spouse, do it.
Q: How is marital property divided in California?
A: All property that you and your spouse acquired through labor or skill during the marriage is, in almost all cases, marital property. You may have more marital property than you realize. You may have an interest in pension and profit-sharing benefits, for example, or in other retirement benefits or a business owned by one or both of you. Each partner legally possesses half of the marital property even if only one spouse worked outside of the home and even if the property is in one partner’s name.
Also, and with few exceptions, debts incurred in the course of the marriage are considered marital debts. This includes credit card bills, even if the card is in one partner’s name only. Student loans, however, are an exception and are considered personal debts. Marital possessions and debts are equally divided in a California divorce unless you and your spouse make a different mutual agreement.
The division of properties and debts can become quite complicated in many California divorces, so when you seek a divorce attorney, make certain that your attorney is substantially experienced in the division and distribution of marital properties and debts. The goal in a divorce is to make sure that you are treated properly and fairly, and the right divorce attorney can often make all the difference.