California law defines divorce, or dissolution of marriage , as a judge’s order that effectively “restore[s] the parties to the state of unmarried persons.” Declared single again, divorcees face far-reaching, life-altering consequences and changes in their rights and duties. The effect of divorce on property rights has been the fodder of tabloids in many celebrity cases; unsurprisingly, a Wikipedia page lists the most expensive divorces. Its impact on parenting rights publicized in the context of bitter custody battles, divorce has earned the reputation of being a thoroughly traumatizing experience, and a daunting task. Still, divorce is a common occurrence: according to The New York Times, one third of couples married in the nineties will divorce. As of 2009, the US Census Bureau statistics noted that 22 percent of all adult women and 21 percent of all adult men have gone through a divorce at least once in their lifetime.
Unmarried Partners And Same-sex Couples Can Divorce Too: Divorce Eligibility In California
Rights of same-sex couples have a turbulent history in California, but the United States Supreme Court decision on 26 June 2015 clearly found that not permitting gays and lesbians to marry was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since 2003, registered domestic partners also share the same rights and obligations as married couples in California, including the right to terminate such partnership.
For a judge to grant a divorce in California, one of the spouses must have been a resident of the state for six months. An exception to this rule is permitted in the case of nullity proceedings, legal separation, or same-sex marriage, if the parties entered into such formal relationship in California, and the current state of residency refuses to dissolve the union.
Dissolving A Marriage Or A Domestic Partnership
The law foresees three different ways to end or alter the rights and responsibilities that go along with marriage, including same-sex marriage, or a domestic partnership:
2. Dissolution of marriage (divorce)
3. Legal separation
In some cases, dissolution can be accomplished by an accelerated, summary procedure.
Annulment is only appropriate, when there are doubts about the validity of marriage. The bases of annulment include fraud, one spouse being under the age of legal consent, or the use of force to compel the marriage. For instance, if a person under 18 years of age fails to obtain court permission to marry, or approval from his guardian, a judge might be willing to annul the marriage. Because a statute of limitations applies, the right to file for annulment is extinguished by the passage of time. The coerced spouse might lose the ability to file for annulment as early as four years after the wedding date. Also, a nullity proceeding may be fitting if the marriage ceremony lacked proper formalities, or where the marriage is bigamous. Attempting an annulment may be costly. Successful annulment usually casts doubt on the existence or scope of community property, so that the results of property division might significantly differ from the divorce scenario. Another major distinction between annulment and divorce is that annulment is effective immediately.
Generally, California courts cannot approve legal separation without the consent of both parties. The spouses can later convert legal separation into marriage dissolution; in such cases the California residency requirement may not apply.
Because California is a no-fault divorce state, a proof of misconduct, such as infidelity, has no bearing on the judge’s decision to grant the divorce. Although, proof of misconduct may well be relevant to other decisions: for instance, the calculation of spousal support. “No-fault” simply means the court will not assign blame for the disintegration of the marriage. A claim by one spouse that the marriage or domestic partnership is defunct will suffice as basis for the dissolution: the phrase “irreconcilable differences” stands for this idea. Additionally, the courts also allow for divorce or legal separation, if one of the spouses permanently lacks legal capacity.
The Waiting Period
In California, no divorce is final, unless at least six months have passed since the divorce petition and summons have been served on the non-filing spouse, or respondent. If the respondent appears in court before such service, the six-months countdown may start from this first appearance.
Decisions Before The Court: The Scope Of Divorce Proceedings
While sitting in divorce proceedings, California courts can decide who gets the custody of the children; what the amount of child support or spousal support will be; and how to divide the property. Likewise, the courts can issue a judgment regarding property rights and child custody with respect to legal separation, without dissolving the marriage.