Summary of Divorce and Legal Separation

Grounds for Divorce in California.

In California, there are two grounds for dissolution (also known as divorce):

Irreconcilable differences.
Incurable insanity

In addition, you or your spouse must have lived in California for six months and in your county for three months before filing a petition to dissolve your marriage. There is no residency requirement for filing for legal separation.

Legal Separation or an Annulment instead of a Divorce.

Legal separation or an annulment may be granted without having lived in California for six months or your county for three months before filing.

Legal Separation. If you have considerations such as insurance, tax or other reasons for wanting a legal separation instead of a divorce, you and your spouse will remain married, but the court can divide your property and issue orders relating to child custody, visitation, child support and spousal support, and, if necessary, a restraining order.

Annulment. If you are granted an annulment, it is as though your marriage never existed. You may be able to get an annulment if you married when you were a minor without the consent of your parents or guardian, or if certain types of fraud or deceit were involved. If you want an annulment, however, you will have to appear in court for a trial.

Filing for Dissolution or Legal Separation

Our office will prepare the forms called the Petition and Summons and then file the Petition and Summons with the clerk of the superior court of the county where you or your spouse lives.

There is a filing fee for these papers unless you have a very low income and qualify for a fee waiver.

We arrange for a copy of the Petition, the Summons, and a blank Response to be served on your spouse.

The Summons gives notice to your spouse that you are filing for a dissolution and that he or she has 30 days in which to file the Response.

The Summons also contains restraining orders that prohibit you and your spouse from removing your minor children from the state without the other spouse’s approval, disposing of property without the other spouse’s or court’s approval, and canceling or changing insurance policies.

There are several steps that may occur after you file.

Disclosure: The parties must complete disclosure declarations that provide information about your income, expenses, assets and debts which we will deliver to your spouse.

Temporary orders: Either party may ask for a hearing so that a judge can decide any temporary child custody, visitation, support, requests for attorney fees or restraining order disputes.

Agreement: The parties should work on permanently resolving the issues raised in the dissolution. If an agreement is reached, neither party will have to appear in court and a judgment based on the agreement can be entered.

Trial: If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, both parties will appear in court for a trial in which a judge will make the decisions.

Default: If your spouse does not file a Response, you may request a default and proceed to a default hearing to obtain a judgment.

Judgment: A judgment ending your marriage can be entered six months from the day your spouse is served with the Summons and Petition.

You cannot legally remarry until you obtain a judgment even if the six months have passed. If you want to remarry or have some other reason for wanting to be single at the end of six months, a judge can dissolve your marriage even though some property or other issues are not yet settled.

Temporary Restraining Orders and Restriction of Travel with Minor Children during the divorce process.

There are temporary restraining orders (rules prohibiting both of you from doing certain things) that go into effect automatically when the divorce process begins.

Neither party will be allowed to take minor children out of state without the other spouse’s written permission or a court order. Nor will either of you, in most instances, be allowed to cancel or change the beneficiaries on your insurance policies.

You will be required to notify your spouse before any out-of-the-ordinary spending—and be prepared to account for such expenditures to a judge.

These requirements are described on the back of the divorce Summons.