A divorce (also called “dissolution of marriage” or “dissolution of domestic partnership”) ends your marriage or domestic partnership (or both if you are both married and in a domestic partnership with your spouse). After you get divorced, you will be single, and you can marry or become a domestic partner again.
You can get a divorce if you say you have “irreconcilable differences” with your spouse or domestic partner. You do not have to give the court any other reason or prove anything. There is no “guilty” or “non-guilty” person, from the court’s point of view. That is why California is called a “no-fault” divorce state.
The only thing the court is interested in is helping the separating spouses or partners reach a fair agreement about how their life will be restructured after the divorce so they can move ahead to rebuild their lives.
If you cannot (or do not want to) get a divorce, you can ask the judge for a legal separation.
A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. You cannot marry or enter into a partnership with someone else if you are legally separated (and not divorced). If you ask for a legal separation, you may be able to change to a divorce case later if you meet certain requirements.
A couple may decide they want to file for legal separation instead of divorce because:
- They do not want to get a divorce but want to live apart and get orders from the court about money, property, and parenting issues.
- They do not want to get a divorce for religious reasons.
- They do not want to get a divorce because of their personal beliefs.
- They do not meet the required residency requirements to file for divorce in California, and they cannot or do not want to wait to get the process of separating started.
- They do not want to divorce because of financial reasons (like, to keep 1 spouse or partner on the other’s health insurance plan or to keep certain benefits that require a couple to remain married).
Like with a divorce, when you get a legal separation, you can ask the judge to make orders about:
- Custody and visitation;
- Child support;
- Spousal or partner support;
- The division of your property; and
- Who will be responsible for paying debts.
An annulment (or “nullity of marriage” or “nullity of domestic partnership”) is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is NOT legally valid. After an annulment, it is like your marriage or domestic partnership never happened because it was never legal.
A marriage is NEVER legally valid when it is:
- Incestuous (between close blood relatives), or
- Bigamous (where a spouse is already married to, or in a domestic partnership with, someone else).
Other marriages and partnerships can be declared “void” (invalid) because:
- One of the people was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership.
- One of the people got married or registered a domestic partnership as a result of force or fraud or while physically or mentally incapacitated.
- Either side was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. This is different from bigamy (which is automatically illegal) because in this case, the marriage or domestic partnership took place after the former spouse or domestic partner was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead.
To get an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that 1 of these reasons is true in your case. This makes an annulment case very different from a divorce or a legal separation. “Irreconcilable differences” are not a reason for getting an annulment.
For more information, visit: Judicial Council of California.