Learn About California Divorce Law

In California, if one spouse wants a divorce, now generally referred to as a "Dissolution of Marriage", a court must grant the divorce even if the other spouse objects. This is what is meant when California is referred to as a "no fault" state. Either spouse may file for divorce for no reason other than irreconcilable differences.

Despite hurt feelings or anger toward the other party, however, it is in the best interest of both spouses to try to work out an amicable agreement and avoid divorce litigation. The primary reason for this is that a negotiated settlement affords more control than going to court, where the final decision lies with a judge. If an agreement cannot be reached through a collaborative and negotiated approach, our San Francisco lawyer has the experience and expertise to represent and defend our client's interests in court to ensure a fair divorce settlement.

Are There Any Residency Requirements In Order To Obtain A Dissolution Of Marriage?

In order to qualify for a dissolution of marriage, one of the spouses must have been a resident of the state continuously for six months and in the county continuously for three months prior to the filing of the Petition for Dissolution. There is no residency requirement to file for a Legal Separation or an Annulment (Nullity). A Legal Separation can be converted to a divorce after the six-month residency period has run. By filing a legal separation, the moving party obtains all the same rights as in a divorce to immediately petition a court for temporary spousal support, child support, custody and other important immediate issues. These rights also exist in Nullity actions.

After A Dissolution Case Is Filed, How Long Does It Take To Have The Marital Status Terminated?

Marital status cannot be terminated (resulting in the parties becoming single) until six months have passed after the service of the Summons and Petition has been made on the other spouse.

What Is The Procedure For Obtaining A Dissolution Of Marriage?

A typical Dissolution of Marriage requires the following steps:

  • The Petition is filed and personally served on the other spouse (Respondent).
  • The Respondent then has thirty days to file a formal Response.
  • Either or both of the parties to the Dissolution can request temporary court orders by filing a request for orders motion. This results in a hearing within a short time. At this hearing, the judge can make orders for temporary child custody, support, attorney's fees and restraining orders.
  • The parties then exchange documents in "discovery", the process by which the parties review information that is relevant to the case. One of the required aspects of discovery is the preparation of the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. This is a document in which each party lists their community and separate property and their debts. As part of this disclosure, the parties are also required to exchange current income and expense declarations, tax returns, and supporting information. Other forms of discovery are interrogatories (written questions), formal requests for documents and depositions (oral examination under penalty of perjury).
  • After discovery is completed, the parties and their attorneys then will discuss settlement of the case. If the case is resolved by negotiation, one of the attorneys will prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement, which will contain all of the terms of the settlement. This is a contract that is signed by the spouses and their attorneys and becomes enforceable as a judgment. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, or if only a partial agreement is reached, they will then take part in a judicially supervised Mandatory Settlement Conference with a judge or court appointed "Settlement Master". If there are still unsettled or unresolved issues, these issues will then be resolved by a judge in either a short or a "long cause" hearing.
  • As an alternative to a trial or motions before the court, the parties can elect to "mediate" the issues before a skilled mediator with the help of their attorneys. This can be both cost-effective and faster than court proceedings.
  • After the parties sign a Marital Settlement Agreement or after a trial or mediation has concluded, one of the attorneys or possibly the mediator, will prepare a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage which will become an enforceable court order. This document will contain all of the agreements that will become court orders. The judgment is then filed and becomes an enforceable court order.