If you're thinking about ending your marriage in the Golden State, you probably have a lot of questions. Fortunately, Californians live in a state that provides its residents with a wealth of free resources.
To meet the residency requirements for a divorce in California, at least one party must live in the state for six months or longer, and the filing spouse must live in the county in which he or she files for at least three months.
Two Types of Divorce
California is a no-fault state, which means that divorcing couples can't accuse the other side of misconduct in the divorce complaint. Instead, the parties simply state that they have irreconcilable differences. However, California offers two ways that couples can end a marriage: summary dissolution and divorce. Summary dissolution is a much faster, less expensive way to end a marriage, but it is only available if you satisfy certain criteria.
In California, a summary dissolution is a type of uncontested divorce in which both spouses meet the following requirements:
- The length of the marriage is five years or less.
- You have no children together.
- You don't own any interest in land or buildings.
- Except for your current residence, you don't lease any land or other buildings. Your current lease can't be a rent-to-own, and it must expire within one year of the date you file for dissolution.
- Except for car payments, the spouses owe $6,000 or less in debts accrued together since the date of marriage.
- Together, you own less than $40,000 in assets accumulated during the marriage (except for vehicles).
- Neither spouse owns separate property worth more than $40,000.
- You both waive the right to receive spousal support (also known as alimony).
- Both spouses have signed a written property settlement agreement dividing all your assets and debts.
Couples who file for a summary dissolution don't speak with a judge and can usually resolve their case without an attorney.
If you don't meet all the criteria for a summary dissolution, or you and your spouse can't agree on the terms of your settlement agreement, you must file a regular California divorce.
- To begin a divorce, you must file a Petition, which tells the court that you want to end your marriage. The Petition also describes what you are asking for, such as child custody, visitation, support, property division, and attorney's fees. The type of form you fill out, depends on the circumstances of your marriage, (ie whether or not you have children, if it's a civil union, etc.)
- You also need to fill out a Summons, which is the same form, regardless of the type of marriage or partnership you're ending. These need to be filed with the court clerk.
- Once the papers are filed, you'll need to get a third party to serve them to your spouse. The third party can be anyone over 18 who knows the rules of service. They must serve your spouse with all the documents filed, plus a blank response form (which is different depending on whether you are in a marriage or a domestic partnership.)
- Once the defendant spouse is served, he has 30 days to file a response. If the defendant fails to file a Response, he loses the right to present his side of the case in court.
- Within 60 days of filing for divorce, you will need to fill out financial disclosure forms.
After 30 days from serving your spouse, your next steps will depend on whether or not your spouse responds to the divorce papers and whether or not you agree on all the issues such as dividing property and child custody.
California divorce laws recognize that both spouses make valuable contributions to any marriage regardless of their employment and generally follows "community property" laws for dividing the property. Under California law, each side must list separate property in a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure form and provide it to the other party, so that the courts can set about the task of dividing a couple's property fairly.
In California, courts award alimony (more commonly referred to as spousal support) on a case-by-case basis. In a divorce case, spousal support isn't an automatic right. Instead, courts consider a number of factors when deciding whether to grant a spouse support.
Child Custody and Support
Divorcing parents must have an agreement regarding child custody, visitation, and support. Any plan must be in writing and signed by both parents and a judge. If the parents can't agree on a child support figure, the court relies on the California Child Support Guidelines to determine how much the obligor (support-paying parent) must pay. In certain cases, California law allows courts to deviate from the guidelines. For example, courts can award higher support amounts where one parent earns an extraordinarily high income.
When parents can't agree on custody of the children, the judge sends the parents to Family Court Services to see if they can reach an agreement with the help of a mediator. The mediator helps create a parenting plan that addresses both legal custody and visitation.
Deciding to Divorce
Resolving to end your marriage is rarely an easy decision. If you have an uncomplicated situation, California makes the divorce process relatively quick and easy. Even in more complex situations, you can streamline your divorce by asking your spouse to cooperate with creating a separation agreement that is fair to both of you. In some cases, however, you need expert advice. If you have considerable assets or complex child custody issues, consult a California family law attorney.