In some situations, you may want to seek an alternative way to dissolve a marriage. Divorces are often viewed in a negative light, and couples who want to split amicably may benefit from seeking a summary dissolution. In some situations, California spouses or domestic partners may petition to have their marriage or partnership dissolved by petitioning the court for a summary dissolution.

Who Can Get a Summary Dissolution?

If you live in California and are considering a summary dissolution it is important to understand the circumstances in which a court will grant the petition. Couples who do not meet the strict requirements will not be successful in getting a summary dissolution in California. Requirements for a successful grant of summary dissolution in California include:

  • One spouse/partner must have lived in California for the 6-month period before the date of the petition;
  • One spouse/partner must have lived in the county in which the petition is being filed for the 3 month period before the date of the petition;*
  • Both spouses/partners agree to seek to end the marriage/partnership due to irreconcilable differences;
  • The marriage/partnership lasted 5 years or less;
  • The couple has no young children together and are not pregnant;
  • Neither spouse/partner owns any real property such as buildings or land;
  • Neither spouse/partner has more than $6,000 in debt, excluding car payments;
  • Neither spouse/partner has more than $38,000 in separate property;
  • Both spouses/partners agree to waive their rights to alimony;
  • Both spouses/partners agree to waive the right to appeal the summary dissolution; and
  • Both spouses/partners agree to read the Summary Dissolution Information packet provided by the court in which they are petitioning.

*There is an exception to the residency requirement for same-sex couples who were married in the state of California, but who no longer reside there.

How to Get a Summary Dissolution in California

If you and your spouse satisfy all of the aforementioned requirements you can petition the court for a summary dissolution. The process, from start to finish, will take no less than 6 months, so be prepared to spend a good deal of time waiting after submitting all of the required paperwork. Note, this 6-month timetable does not include the hours of work that you will be required to contribute to making the necessary preparations and arrangements outlined below. The process for obtaining a summary dissolution of marriage in California includes:

  1. Read the and sign Summary Dissolution Information (FL-810). You will be required to acknowledge that you have read the form and understand its contents.
  2. Determine the court you’ll need to file in. The court you file your petition in must be – in most cases – in the county in which at least one of the spouses has lived in for the past 3 months.
  3. Complete required court paperwork. The Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution (FL-800) and Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-825) are the main forms you’ll need to complete. Both spouses/partners are required to sign the Petition. The Judgment is what the court will complete, sign, and file if your petition is granted.
  4. Complete required property paperwork. In addition to the court forms, both spouses/partners are required to complete a series of forms concerning property and financial matters that must be resolved prior to the dissolution. Forms that may be required include:
  • Income and Expenses Declaration (FL-150)
  • Determining Value and Division of Community Property
  • Determining Value of Separate Property
  • Determining Community Obligations and Their Division
  • Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142)
  • Property Declaration Form (FL-160)
  1. Produce financial information. Information concerning each spouse/partner’s financial situation, including tax returns and tax forms, must be attached to the property forms and disclosures.
  2. Complete a property agreement. Both spouses/partners must agree to the division of assets. There is no standardized form. Spouses can use a template available from the state of California or create their own.
  3. File all paperwork with the clerk and pay filing fees. Once you’ve completed all the paperwork and gathered all necessary supplementary documentation, bring your petition to the county clerk. He or she will file your petition with the court.
  4. Wait it out. There is a mandatory 6 month waiting period from the date you originally file your petition.

If your petition is granted, your marriage is dissolved on the date the court signs the Judgment form you provided. If your petition is denied your marriage will still be valid.

Potential Downsides of Summary Dissolution in California

Summary dissolution is often cited as a less-expensive, more efficient alternative to divorce. This can be true if both spouses are in complete agreement about how to move forward. However, the process can become complicated very quickly, especially if spouses have assets and debts reaching the limits permitted by the state. Costs may exceed those expected if you use legal document preparation firms, whose fees can sometimes rival those of an attorney. Potential negative aspects of summary dissolution in California include:

  • 6 month waiting period. In some cases, an amicable divorce may be faster than summary dissolution. If you’re in agreement about the marriage ending and are looking for a quick fix, a divorce may be a better option.
  • Paperwork. Summary dissolution requires couples to complete and file a lot of different forms including the joint petition, judgment form, income and expense declarations, declarations of disclosure, schedule of assets and debts, and property division agreements. These can be time consuming and confusing if you’re not familiar with the law.
  • Expensive. If you’re petitioning for a summary dissolution without the assistance of an attorney you may be able to reduce costs. However, summary dissolution is a legal process that is best pursued with the guidance and expertise of legal counsel. Dividing assets and determining which information is required to be disclosed can be tricky – an attorney understands the legal nuances involved and the expense may be well-spent if your petition is denied for failing to adhere to the strict paperwork requirements.
  • Both spouses must agree…to everything. Both spouses must agree to, and sign, everything.
  • Unilateral revocation. The biggest downside to summary dissolution is that during the 6-month period after filing, either spouse may unilaterally revoke the petition.

Summary dissolution is an alternative to divorce in California that may provide certain couples in marriages or domestic partnership a friendly means of going their separate ways. If you are thinking about seeking a summary dissolution in California, contact an experienced divorce lawyer today.