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3 Options for Ending Your California Marriage

California offers three different methods for dissolving a marriage in the state. Depending on the nature of your marriage and the circumstances of your current relationship, one method might prove more appropriate than another. In today’s blog, we will elaborate on the legal process and reasons for each of the three methods.

3 Ways to Separate from Your Partner


The most common way to end a marriage is divorce. California is a no-fault divorce state, so spouses do not need to have a concrete reason for dissolving their marriage; they merely need to cite “irreconcilable differences” that caused an irrevocable breakdown of the marriage. The main requirement for filing for divorce in California is the residency requirement, which requires that:

  • at least one spouse has been a resident of the state for at least 6 months prior to filing;
  • you live in the county where you file the divorce petition for at least 3 months prior to filing.

Note that couples who have been married for less than 5 years, have no children, don't own real estate, and have limited property and debts may qualify for a summary dissolution. This is a simpler process that generally doesn't require an appearance before a judge. In such a case, you and your spouse must create an agreement together with your attorneys about how you will divide your property and debts, and you should file this (along with the petition and other forms) with the court. If you do not qualify for this simplified process, you will undergo a regular divorce process that may require an appearance before the court and other procedures like “discovery.”

Whatever divorce method you pursue, it usually takes at least 6 months for the divorce to be finalized after filing the appropriate forms with the court.

Legal Separation

One way to separate from your partner in California is legal separation. Spouses who legally separate will technically still be married, but they will no longer have the legal responsibilities and relationship as spouses. The steps for legal separation are similar to divorce, in that they include:

  • filing a petition for legal separation;
  • making decisions about child custody, child support, alimony, and property division, which may be reached by an agreement between spouses or in trial; and
  • obtaining a final judgment of legal separation from the court.

There are several reasons you might elect to pursue legal separation. In many cases, spouses might choose to remain married because they have minor children together. Others may practice a religion that forbids divorce, so the next best option is to legally separate. Some couples might choose legal separation for practical reasons, such as to maintain one spouse on the other's healthcare plan (if this is not considered a disqualifying event under your plan).

Perhaps the most common reason couples file for legal separation is that they do not meet the state's divorce residency requirements (above). California law does not require couples to meet any residency requirements prior to filing for legal separation. As a result, you can file for legal separation at any time and do not have to wait for orders on divorce-related issues like child custody or property division.


The third way you can dissolve your marriage is annulment, or “nullity of marriage” or “nullity of domestic partnership.” This is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is no longer legally valid. After an annulment, it will be as if your marriage or domestic partnership never happened because it was never legal.

To get an annulment, you must be able to prove that one of the following is true:

  • You were under 18 years old at the time of the marriage.
  • Either one of you was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership.
  • Either party was of “unsound mind” or unable to understand the nature of the marriage, including the obligations that come with it.
  • Either party got married as a result of fraud (e.g., marrying only to get a green card, hiding the inability to have children).
  • Either party consented to marriage as a result of force.
  • You got married while one person was “physically incapacitated” (physically incapable of “consummating” the relationship) and the incapacity is continuing.
  • You and your partner are close blood relatives (incestuous relationship).

The annulment process can be confusing and complex to navigate, so it is best to retain the legal services of an experienced lawyer to help you through the proceedings.

The decision to separate from your life partner can be a tough and emotional one. Different circumstances also warrant different methods for separation, from divorce to legal separation to annulment. Our firm can discuss your situation and goals with you to determine your best legal path forward to dissolve your marriage, whether you and your spouse are on amicable or conflicting terms.

Contact our team at Singleton Smith Law Offices, Inc. for more information to get started.