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Divorce, Legal Separation and Annulment


California couples wishing to end their marriage or domestic partnership have three legal options: divorce, legal separation, and annulment.

Divorce. Divorce or dissolution is a proceeding that legally ends a marriage or domestic partnership. After a divorce, both parties are considered single, and are free to remarry or enter a new domestic partnership. Under California Family Code § 2310, there are only two grounds available for divorce in California: irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity.

There are two types of divorce available to California couples: Summary Dissolution and Regular Dissolution.  Summary Dissolution is an easy way to handle a divorce, because it requires only a few forms, and does not require a hearing with a judge. Summary Dissolution is only available to couples who have been married or registered domestic partners less than five years, have no children together, and have few assets and debts. For more information about Summary Dissolution, see http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-summarydissolution.htm. C

Couples who do not meet the Summary Dissolution requirements must use the Regular Dissolution procedures.

In order to file for divorce in California, at least one party must have lived in California for the last 6 months, and in county where they plan to file the divorce for the last 3 months (California Family Code § 2320). After filing for a divorce, there is a mandatory 6-month waiting period before your divorce may become final. 

Legal Separation. A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. With a legal separation, the marriage or domestic partnership remains intact, and the parties may not remarry or enter a new domestic partnership. Legal separation is an option for couples who do not wish to divorce, but want to separate their finances and property. The grounds for legal separation are the same as those for divorce. To file for legal separation, one party must reside in the county where the papers are filed at the time the case is started. There is no required length of residency.

Annulment. In an annulment, the court determines that a marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. Marriages or domestic partnerships that are incestuous or bigamous are never valid. Others can be declared "void" or "voidable" because: 

  • of force, fraud, or physical or mental incapacity
  • one of the spouses was legally too young to marry or enter a domestic partnership
  • one of the spouses was already married or in a domestic partnership

More information about the grounds for nullity, as well as time limits for filing for an annulment, are available from the California Family Code, §§ 2210 et seq. Annulments are very rare. If you ask to have your marriage or domestic partnership annulled, you will have to go to hearing with a judge. To file for an annulment, one party must reside in the county where the papers are filed at the time the case is started. There is no required length of residency.

Support, custody, property division, and other orders are available in divorce, legal separation, and annulment cases. See the "Child Support" and "Custody and Visitation" legal research guides, available from the Law Library's website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/family-topic.aspx, for materials on those specific topics.

The procedures and forms are similar for each of these options. The following resources provide information that is useful to parties pursing a divorce, legal separation or annulment.

SELF HELP

Self-help materials provide "plain English" explanations of the law, written by attorneys or other legal professionals. These books include basic procedures, forms with instructions, models of other required documents, and tips for handling your case.

Books: 

California

General (All of these titles may be found in the Self-Help section of the Law Library)

Websites:

California Courts' Self-Help website http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-divorce.htm
Excellent comprehensive website for information, court rules, and forms. Includes a step-by-step guide for uncontested divorces. A flowchart of the steps in a divorce case is available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl107info.pdf

Divorce Help Line http://www.divorcehelp.com  
This website provides legal and practical information on all aspects of divorce. It links to the Divorce Helpline, a fee-based service of attorneys and other legal experts available to answer your questions and provide assistance.  

Nolo Press Self-Help Law Centerhttp://www.nolo.com
Contains legal information geared to non-attorneys. The website includes a law dictionary that translates legal jargon into plain English, and guides and forms that can be downloaded to your computer for a fee.

Sacramento Superior Court http://www.saccourt.ca.gov
Click on the "Family and Children" link to access divorce-related information.  

PRACTICE GUIDES

These are "practitioner's guides" aimed at attorneys. They contain a lot of information about the law, procedures, motions, and forms.

Books:

  • California Civil Practice: Family Law Litigation KFC 115 .A6 B36
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using WestlawNext.
  • California Community Property Law KFC 125 .C6 B37
  • California Domestic Partnerships KFC 115 .C336
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.
  • California Family Law Litigation Guide KFC 115 .C37
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.
  • California Family Law: Practice and Procedure KFC 115 .L87
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.
  • California Forms of Pleading and Practice KFC 1010 .A65 C3 (Ready Reference)
    Vols. 18 and 19, "Dissolution of Marriage," Vol. 5 Ch. 23, "Annulment."
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.
  • California Marital Settlement and Other Family Law Agreements KFC 126 .W34
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.
  • California Practice Guide: Family Law KFC 115 .H64 R8
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using WestlawNext.
  • Complex Issues in California Family Law KFC 115 .G72
  • Dissolution Strategies: from Intake to Judgment KFC 126 .D57
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.
  • Dividing Pensions and Other Employee Benefits in California Divorces KFC 126 .D58
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.
  • Family Law Financial Discovery KFC 126 .F36
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.
  • Family Law Practice Nuts and Bolts KFC 115 .A75 C35
  • Practice Under the California Family Code KFC 126 .P7
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.

FORMS

Divorce, legal separation, and annulment cases require the use of mandatory statewide Judicial Council forms, as well as some Sacramento County local forms. Samples of completed forms are available in many of the books listed above. Blank forms are available from the following resources:

Books: 

Websites:

  • Judicial Council Forms (http://courts.ca.gov/forms.htm).
    The California Courts Online Self-Help Center (http://courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-divorce.htm) provides links to the forms used in divorce, legal separation and annulment cases. It includes a step-by-step guide with links to the forms needed at each step.
  • Sacramento County Court Divorce Forms Packets   (http://saccourt.ca.gov/family/divorce.aspx).
    This packet includes both the Judicial Council and Sacramento County local forms required in divorce, legal separation, and annulment cases. These packets include detailed instructions for completing the forms and filing with the court.

STATUTES

All of the materials listed above will refer you to sections of California Codes. The codes are available in the library and online.

Books:
Deering's California Code Annotated KFC 30.5 .D4 (Compact)
West's Annotated California Codes KFC 30 .W48 

Websites:
California State Codes http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html 

COMMUNITY RESOURCES

The Family Law Facilitator's office provides assistance with many aspects of divorce, legal separation, and annulment cases. Assistance is provided through their "E-Correspondence" service (https://services.saccourt.ca.gov/flfoecorrespondence/), where you can ask questions and receive answers via secure email.

updated 04/13 mpj