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Divorce: The Basics

Married couples who file for divorce in California must first meet California residency requirements.The residency requirement is that the individual filing must have resided in California for at least 6 months prior to filing. Once the requirement is met, depending on the length of the marriage and the circumstances of the divorce, there are a number of filing options available to those seeking a divorce in California. Under California law, once a couple files for divorce, a number of issues will be determined by the court, including division of property and debts, spousal support, child support, and child custody and visitation.

Here are some of the basics about California divorce law:

California Divorce Residency Requirements

In order to file for divorce in the State of California, the filing party or “petitioner” must meet certain residency requirements. These requirements are necessary in order to confer upon the court the necessary jurisdiction to make decisions regarding the parties. Laws regarding residency requirements were enacted to ensure fairness and equity to all parties. Otherwise, one divorcing party could in theory force the other party to appear in court far from where that party lives, or risk forfeiting significant rights. Accordingly, in order to obtain a California divorce, either the petitioner or the respondent must have lived in the State of California for six months, and in the specific county in which the petition for divorce is filed for at least three months immediately preceding the filing of the petition.

Divorce Options

California marriage and family relationships are governed by a set of statutes or laws identified as the California Family Code. Under California law, individuals who want to terminate a marital relationship have a number of options available to them, including legal separation, annulment, dissolution and summary dissolution

If a couple has been married for less than five years, has no children and has minimal assets, California law permits the couple to file for “summary dissolution.” This is a relatively fast, simple and inexpensive alternative to the regular dissolution proceeding.

A California married couple can also seek an annulment of a marriage under certain circumstances. For example, if it is determined that a marriage is incestuous or bigamous, the marriage is considered void under California’s Family Code and may be so declared upon petition of either party to the marriage. A marriage is not void, but is voidable under California law, where the petitioner was a minor at the time of the marriage, where there was fraud or coercion, or where one spouse or the other has a physical or mental condition rendering the marriage unviable.

Finally, if a couple is not yet ready for divorce, but wants to live separately and to be considered separately for purposes of finances, taxation and other legalities, they can file for a legal separation.

Grounds for Divorce in California

California is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that the court will not assign fault to one spouse or the other for the disintegration of the marriage. Instead, California has a single grounds for divorce:Irreconcilable differences between the parties which have led to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. In other words, for whatever reason, dissolution of the marriage is appropriate because the parties just do not get along anymore.For purposes of obtaining a divorce, the courts are not interested in whether one of the parties has committed adultery or inflicted mental or physical abuse upon the other. These things may, however, in relevant cases, be considered in deciding other issues, such as child custody or family support.

Community Assets and Debts in a Divorce

California is a “community property” state. This means that the courts are not going to put a great deal of effort into determining who did what or who earned what during the marriage for purposes of dividing up property.In California, it is assumed that both parties contributed equally, whether directly or indirectly, to earning income for the “community” (the couple or family) and to the acquisition of wealth, including real and personal property. Accordingly, in the ordinary case, money and property acquired during the marriage will be divided equally between the parties.By the same token, debts acquired during the marriage will generally remain the joint obligation of the divorcing spouses.

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