This page includes general information about and an overview of how family relationships may be ended in California, and the types of related orders that may be requested.

The information on this page is not legal advice. Ending a marriage is often emotionally charged and heated exchanges displace reason. At those times, an attorney experienced in the state with jurisdiction over your case may be needed to provide direction and insight, and to help resolve the conflict with less hostility.

Ending Family Relationships

Starting on January 1, 2005, registered domestic partners in California must also file for dissolution, legal separation, or annulment to end their relationship.

A divorce (also called "dissolution of marriage" or "dissolution of domestic partnership") ends your marriage or registered domestic partnership. After you are divorced, you will be single, and, after that, you can marry or become a domestic partner again.

This page explains the differences between a divorce, a legal separation, and an annulment, the methods of ending family relationships in California:

Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)

A divorce (also called a "dissolution of marriage" or "dissolution of domestic partnership" in California) is a legal proceeding that ends your marriage or domestic partnership.1 You can get a divorce if you say that you have "irreconcilable differences"2 with your spouse (or partner) or that one of you has "incurable insanity,"3 and no other reason needs to or may be given to the court.4 Fault accusations are not required, and charges of fault are neither allowed nor considered by the courts, specific acts of misconduct are improper and inadmissible.5

Before you can get a divorce in California, you must meet a "residency requirement." To do so, you OR your spouse (or partner) must have lived in California for the last six months AND in the county where you file for your divorce for the last three months.6 If you have not lived in the state and the county for that long, you may file for legal separation, but not divorce.7

The filing of your petition for dissolution is the start of the divorce process. In California, you cannot be restored to the status of a single person until the six month waiting period has passed. And, you are not divorced until the Judgment of Dissolution is entered by the judge AND the date marital or partner status ends has passed.

Some times, after someone has filed for divorce, they decide to try to rebuild their relationship with the other person, but they want the security of knowing that the divorce is still pending if their efforts fail. When this happens, you can ask that the divorce or legal separation proceedings be suspended for up to 30 days, and if it appears that there is a reasonable possibility of reconciliation, the judge will do so.8

When you get a divorce, there are important aspects of your relationship that you can ask the judge to make orders about:

If attorneys are or need to be involved, you may be able to get orders about who will pay their fees and where the money will come from. You can also ask the judge to make other orders, about who will have temorary use of the family home and cars, who will pay bills and credit cards until you are divorced, and things like domestic violence restraining orders.

Although anyone who is married can get a "regular" divorce, some couples that have been married less than 5 years can get a "summary dissolution," which is a much easier way to end your marriage.

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California Residency Requirement

In California, to file for divorce one of you, either you OR your spouse, must have lived in:

immediately preceding the filing of your petition for dissolution of marriage.9 If you lived in California for three months, moved out-of-state for any length of time, and returned, then you must wait six months from the time you returned to California.

If you and your spouse have both lived in California for at least the last six months but in different counties for at least the last three months, you can file in either county.10 Unless you want to travel to the courtroom in the other county for your divorce, you need to file AND personally serve your spouse be for he or she files and serves you. The first to file and "tag" the other wins the county where the court proceedings will be held.

Even if you don't meet this residency requirement, you can still file for a legal separation then, once enough time has passed so that you meet the residency requirement, you may file an "amended petition" and ask the court for a divorce.11 However, unless your intent to do so is stated in your petition for legal separation, you will have to personally serve your spouse again.

Six-Month Waiting Period

In California, you must wait six months before you can be single again.12 The six-month time begins the day after your spouse or domestic partner is served with the summons AND petition for dissolution. Count by starting with the day after and then adding six “months.” For example, if the papers were served on January 1, then you start with January 2, and add six months, ending on July 2. You cannot be divorced before the six-month time has passed.

Beware, even if the judge has already signed the judgment of dissolution and even if you have received the endorsed-filed copy of this form from the court before this time, if you carefully look below the title at the top of the page, then you will read "Date marital or domestic partnership status ends:" followed by a date. That date is the date your divorce is effective, the date that you are single, and not one day before.

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Legal Separation

A legal separation does not end your marriage or registered domestic partnership, but, like divorce, "irreconcilable differences" or "incurable insanity is required and no other ground may be used. If you are only legally separated (and not divorced), you cannot get married or enter into another domestic partnership with someone else. A legal separation is for couples that do not want to get divorced but want to live apart and separately decide their own money, property, and parenting issues. Religeous reasons may also lead a couple prefer separation over divirce.

Legal separation may also be available to couple's who cannot get divorced because you do not need to meet California's residency requirement to file for a separation. In this situation, you may file for a legal separation and later file an amended petition to ask the court for a divorce--after you meet the residency requirement.

When you get a legal separation, you can ask the judge for any of the same orders that you can get with a divorce, including orders for child support, spousal or partner support, custody and visitation, domestic violence restraining orders.

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When you ask for an annulment (also called a "nullity of marriage" or "nullity of domestic partnership") you are asking the judge to say that you were never married or that you never entered into a domestic partnership. A judge may do so only if your marriage or domestic partnership is NOT legally valid.

A marriage or domestic partnership that is incestuous or bigamous is never valid. Other marriages and partnerships can be declared "void" for any of these reasons13:

And, you do not need to meet California's residency requirement to file for an annulment.14

Annulments are unusual, and may not be easily obtained. If you ask to have your marriage or domestic partnership annulled, you will have to go to hearing with a judge and explain why the annulment should be given. Your word will not usually be enough alone, you will be expected to provide the testimony of witnesses, documents, or other evidence proving your claims.

Special Note: If you have children in common with your spouse or partner, when you ask to have your relationship annulled most often you must also ask the judge to establish that the other party is the parent of your children if you want custody, visitation or child support orders. You should get the advice of an attorney about whether you should and how to do this.

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Summary Dissolution--An Easier Divorce

In California, there is a quick, easy way to get divorced. It is called a "summary dissolution." If you qualify, you won't have to talk to a judge and you may not need to hire a lawyer. You will only have to fill out a few forms and wait. As with a "regular" divorce, you cannot be restored to the status of a single person until six months have passed after your spouse (or partner) is served with the summons and petition for dissolution.

But remember: It is in your best interest to see a lawyer about ending your marriage.

Do You Qualify for a Summary Dissolution?

To qualify for a summary dissolution, ALL of the following conditions MUST exist at the time the proceeding is commenced15:

  1. If you are married, either you or your spouse meet the residency requirement of having lived in California for the last six months and in the county where you file for summary dissolution for the last three months.

  2. Irreconcilable differences have caused the irremediable breakdown of your relationship and your marriage or domestic partnership should be dissolved (no other reason may be used).

  3. The two of you have no children together that were adopted or born before or during the marriage or partnership and, to your knowledge, neither of you is now pregnant.

  4. Your marriage or domestic partnership is not more than five years in duration at the time the petition is filed.

  5. Neither of you has any interest in real property (house, condominium, rental property, or land), anywhere, except for the lease of a home lived in by either of you which does not include an option to purchase AND terminates within one year from the date the petition is filed.

  6. The two of you do not owe more than six thousand dollars ($6,000)16: for debts incurred after the date of your marriage or your entry into your domestic partnership (not counting your car loans). For a worksheet, click here; to see a completed sample worksheet, click here.

  7. The two of you acquired less than $36,00017 worth of property during the marriage or domestic partnership (not counting debt or your cars), including any deferred compensation or retirement plan, and neither of you has separate property worth more than $36,000 (not counting debt or your cars). For a worksheet, click here; to see a completed sample worksheet, click here.

  8. You have both signed an agreement dividing your community property and debts, and have signed any documents, title certificates, bills of sale, or other transfer documents necessary to effectuate the agreement. To see a sample agreement with instructions, click here; for a fillable form, click here.

  9. You both agree that neither of you will ever receive spousal or domestic partner support.

  10. You both agree irrevocably waive your rights to appeal and to ask for a new trial.

  11. You have both read and understand the Summary Dissolution brochure if you are married, or the Terminating a California Registered Domestic Partnership brochure if you are domestic partners.

  12. You both want the court to dissolve your marriage or domestic partnership.

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Six-Month Wait

Like a "regular" divorce, even in a summary dissolution there is a six-month wait until you can be single again.

In a summary dissolution of marriage, you have to wait six months from the day you filed with the court to finish your summary dissolution. After six months have past, a Request for Judgment, Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, and Notice of Entry of Judgment must be filed to finish your summary dissolution. When you receive the endorsed-filed copy of this form from the court, you are divorced.

You won't be divorced, and you can't get remarried, until after you finish your summary dissolution. If you decide that you don't want to get divorced during the six months, you must file a Notice of Revocation of Petition for Summary Dissolution with the court.

Be aware, some courts ask you to fill out their forms too when you ask for a summary dissolution. Check with your court to see if you have to fill out any local forms.

and remember, your rights in a divorce depend upon your circumstances, and it is best to see a lawyer about your rights before making any agreement ending your marriage or your children.

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1.    California Family Code § 2300.     Return to article >
2.    California Family Code §§ 2310, 2333.     Return to article >
3.    California Family Code §§ 2312-2313, 2332.     Return to article >
4.    California Family Code § 2310.     Return to article >
5.    California Family Code § 2335.     Return to article >
6.    California Family Code § 2320.     Return to article >
7.    Forster v. Super.Ct. (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 782, 785-786;
       Marriage of Dick (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 144, 151.     Return to article >

8.    California Family Code § 2334.     Return to article >
9.    California Family Code § 2320.     Return to article >
10.  California Family Code § 2322.     Return to article >
11.  California Family Code § 2321.     Return to article >
12.  California Family Code § 2339.     Return to article >
13.  California Family Code § 2210.     Return to article >
14.  Millar v. Millar (1917) 175 Cal. 797, 808.     Return to article >
15.  California Family Code § 2400.     Return to article >
16.  Judicial Counsel of California, Report, September 17, 2007.     Return to article >
17.  Judicial Counsel of California, Report, September 17, 2007.     Return to article >