The basics of divorce in California

Divorce is an aspect of a relationship that most people would rather not think about. It can be a maddening time that is full of stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. Despite this, however, divorce can be the right way to go in many situations. If you are considering divorce, it is important to have an understanding of the basics of the process, so you can know what to expect.

Grounds and residency

California is a “no-fault” state, meaning that neither of the parties has to prove fault (e.g. adultery or cruelty) in order to get a divorce. However, when you file for divorce, you have to choose the grounds for the divorce. In California, there are only two grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity. Since insanity grounds require medical proof of the insanity of one of the spouses (much to the chagrin of many divorcing couples), almost all divorces occur on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.

In addition to grounds, California divorce law has residency requirements. Under the law one of the two spouses must have lived in California for six months and in the county for three months before a divorce may be filed. However, there are no residency requirements to seek a legal separation or annulment.

Means of obtaining divorce

The divorce process incentivizes collaboration. If the parties can work together to reach a resolution, mediation can be a less expensive alternative to going to court. In mediation, the parties work with a trained professional (often an attorney) instead of a judge to reach a resolution. The mediator does not make decisions for the parties, but merely aids them in reaching a reasonable compromise.

If the parties to the divorce cannot work together, a contested divorce is typically the only way to go. This process is adversarial in nature and involves the court making decisions on behalf of the parties. Needless to say, this type of process can be long and expensive.

For couples that have not been married long, have no children and few assets, a third option called a summary dissolution is available. Essentially, this is a fast-track divorce without the need to go to court. As a result, it is a fairly inexpensive and quick process. Summary dissolutions are only available to couples who:

  • Don’t have children
  • Have been married for fewer than five years
  • Don’t own real estate
  • Have less than $40,000 worth of separate or community property
  • Have less than $6,000 of debts acquired since the marriage
  • Agree not to seek alimony

The divorce options that are available to you depend heavily on your circumstances. The assistance of a California divorce attorney can be invaluable in indentifying the option that would suit you best.