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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 (Fam 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 www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-summarydissolution.htm. 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 (Fam 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 Fam 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 Legal Research Guides on Child Support and Custody and Visitation on our website at 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 How to Do Your Own Divorce in California KFC 126 .Z9 S45 (Self-Help)

How to Solve Divorce Problems in California: In or Out of Court KFC 126 .Z9 S53 (Self-Help)

Law Office Procedures Manual KFC 77 .L44

Family Law BasicsKFC 115 .F36 (Reference)

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

Divorce and Money: How to Make the Best Financial Decisions During Divorce
KF 524 .W66
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx

Divorce Without Court: A Guide to Mediation and Collaborative Divorce
KF 535 .Z9 S76
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx

A Judge's Guide to Divorce: Uncommon Advice From the Bench KF 535 .Z9 D857
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx

Make Any Divorce Better: Specific Steps to Make Things Smoother, Faster, Less Painful and Save You a Lot of Money KF 535 .Z9 S523 

Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce KF 535 .Z9 D67
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx

Websites:

California Courts' Self-Help website 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 www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl107info.pdf.

Nolo Press Self-Help Law Center 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 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: 

California Judicial Council Forms Manual KFC 995 .A65 C25

West's California Judicial Council Forms KFC 995 .W45 C3 (Ref Desk)

Websites:

Judicial Council Forms www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm
All Judicial Council forms are available from this website. The California Courts Self-Help website provides links to the forms used in divorce, legal separation and annulment cases (www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-divorce.htm). It includes a step-by-step guide with links to the forms needed at each step.

Sacramento County Court Divorce Forms Packets www.saccourt.ca.gov/family/divorce.aspx.
The Court's packets include 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 leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/ 

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 (www.services.saccourt.ca.gov/flfoecorrespondence/), where you can ask questions and receive answers via secure email.

updated 04/2014 mpj