Divorce California

A Guide to Filing for Divorce in California

Deciding to end your marriage is extremely difficult. One of the most difficult decisions you will ever make. You didn’t get married expecting it to end. It all began with such happiness and celebration. Now, that you’re thinking of ending it, you’re scared, hopeless, and full of doubt. But, really, that’s all normal and helpful, actually. You should not make this kind of decision lightly or hastily.

Issues to Consider

Every marriage goes through rough patches. They’re inevitable. If you’re just going through a rough time and are simply feeling unhappy right now, ending the marriage and becoming single again may not make you happier. So, while you’re thinking it’s over, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • is sexual intimacy completely gone from your marriage?
  • do you no longer show affection toward one another?
  • have you stopped talking with one another?
  • have you stopped laughing?
  • can you no longer forgive your spouse for something he or she has done?
  • have you lost patience with your spouse?
  • do you feel indifferently toward your spouse?
  • does your spouse feel indifferently toward you?
  • have you lost all faith and hope?
  • are there any addictions?
  • Is there any abuse?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions (especially the last two), you may be ready to end your marriage. Emotional detachment is a powerful indicator of a relationship’s end.

Legally Dissolving Your Marriage

In California, there are two ways to legally end or dissolve a marriage.

Divorce: or, standard dissolution of marriage.

You begin by filing a petition with the clerk in the appropriate California county (for example, if you live in Palm Springs, you or your spouse will file the petition in Riverside County) and properly serving it on your spouse. If you are still living with one another (you do not have be living apart in order to file the petition), you normally provide a reason, such as “irreconcilable differences” or “incompatibility.” Your spouse then files a response and each of you then attempt to fairly divide your property, assets, and debts; determine spousal support, and decide child custody and support.

California requires that you to wait six-months before the court will finalize your divorce (this time period allows the parties to stop the process and reconcile, should they wish). The six-month waiting period begins from the date your spouse receives or acknowledges receiving the divorce petition.

If you and your spouse have any disagreements over financials or other issues, the divorce could take longer and court hearings may be necessary.

Summary Dissolution of Marriage

California provided this option for couples who totally agree that their marriage should end. You must, however, meet the following requirements to qualify for this alternative:

  • you must be married for five years or less.
  • either you and/or your spouse must have lived in the state of California for at least six months before filing the petition to dissolve your marriage.
  • either you and/or your spouse must live in the California county in which the petition will be filed.
  • there must be no children between you and your spouse and you must not be expecting any children.

As with a standard divorce, California requires that you wait six-months before the court will finalize the dissolution.

If you anticipate encountering any disputes over property, debts, and other assets and having issues regarding spousal support, this alternative may not be the proper choice.

Another Way to End Your Marriage

California allows you to formally “end” your marriage one more way:


Rather than dissolving your marriage, an annulment “nullifies” or states that your marriage never happened. When you get an annulment, you are essentially saying that your marriage never took place because it was not legal. For example, incestuous and bigamous marriages are never legal. In California, if you want the court to nullify or state that your marriage never happened and was not legal, you have to prove one of the following situations existed at the time of your marriage:

Fraud: You must show that there was some kind of fraud that was crucial to your relationship and marriage and that it directly harmed you. Examples include lying about having a terminal illness or falsifying a pregnancy.

Force: you must show that someone forced you into marriage.

Underage Spouse: you must prove that your spouse was less than eighteen years old at the time of the marriage.

Unsound Mind: you must demonstrate that your spouse is unable to comprehend the obligations and nature of marriage.

Prior Marriage: you must prove that your spouse was already legally married at the time of your marriage (this is different than bigamy).

Physical Incapacity: you must show that your spouse is incapable of consummating the marriage.

Legal Separation: An Alternative to Dissolving or Ending Your Marriage

California provides Legal Separation as yet another way to “end” your marriage. You may want to live apart (Legally Separated couples do not reside with one another), but not dissolve or otherwise end your marriage. Your religion may have certain rules and views regarding divorce or you may want to make sure you or your spouse has access to certain health insurance and/or other benefits the other spouse offers. Or, you may have other reasons that simply make sense to you and your spouse.

Should you wish to obtain a Legal Separation in California, you must identify a “date of separation.” This is demonstrated by both of the following:

  1. You (or your spouse) have said that you wish to end marriage, and
  2. you (or your spouse) behave as though you want to end the marriage.

Identifying this date is vital as determines how to divide property, assets, and debts; determine spousal support; and decide child custody and support.

Both you and your spouse must consent to the Legal Separation, file the appropriate papers, and the court must issue an order approving it. Even if there is no spousal or child support or division of property, etc., the court must, nonetheless, approve the Legal Separation.

Do You Need an Attorney?

If you have decided that you want to go forth with one of these options, do you have to seek out an attorney? No. Attorneys can be outrageously expensive and can cause unnecessary delays, especially if you and your spouse agree that you want to end the marriage and, especially if you have agreed on how to divide your financials and agree on issues regarding spousal support and child custody and support. If you’re looking for a less expensive solution to help with your divorce, please reach out to us here.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

Whatever you decide, remember again, that you are going through one of the hardest decisions you will ever make in your life. All these decisions bring about many emotions and it might feel overwhelming at times. Remember to take care of yourself and turn to your friends, family, and others who give you support and comfort.

Disclaimer: We are not attorneys. The information presented on our web site is general, factual, published information obtained from court provided self-help legal publications, legal statutes or other sources believed to be accurate and reliable. This information should not be considered legal advice as it is general in nature.