Updated: Divorce in California

Law pertaining to domestic partnerships still evolving


Legal help and professional counseling

If you’re contemplating the serious process of divorce, you’ve probably wondered whether you need an attorney under California law. The short answer is that neither you nor your spouse are required to hire an attorney, and the California courts provide self-help information, which we’ll get into shortly. Besides an attorney, however, you should also consider professional counseling; experts say that the pain of divorce can approach that of a death in the family. Many people have been helped with therapy or grief counseling, and an attorney can help with appropriate referrals.

Addressing domestic violence

Furthermore, legal authorities and experts also emphasize that if your situation includes domestic violence, it should be addressed immediately. Here again, an attorney can be of immense help, both in navigating the legal system and filing the proper protective orders and also in finding safe haven. California has a wealth of online domestic violence resources, including:

California law provides for annulment, legal separation, dissolution of marriage and dissolution of domestic partnership. In fact, according to the California Courts’ Self-Help Center, “In California, starting on January 1, 2005, domestic partners must also file for dissolution, legal separation, or annulment to end their relationship. For more information about ending a domestic partnership, click here.”

Residency requirements: married filing for divorce or separation

According to the self-help site:

To file for divorce in California, either you or your spouse must have lived in:

  • California for the last 6 months, AND
  • The county where you plan to file the divorce for the last 3 months.

If you and your spouse have lived in California for at least 6 months but in different counties for at least 3 months, you can file in either county.

If you don’t meet the residency requirement, you can still file for a legal separation.

Once enough time has passed so that you meet the residency requirement for a divorce, you may file an “amended petition” and ask the court for a divorce.

The basics of ending a domestic partnership

Domestic partnerships differ from marriage under the law; according to the site [Note: emphasis added]:

  • Residency – Domestic partners who have registered in California have agreed to the jurisdiction of the California courts to end their domestic partnerships – even if they move away or have never lived in California.
  • If couples have become domestic partners (or their equivalent) in other states, they can file in California to end their domestic partnership if at least one of them is living in California. To file for a divorce, one party will have had to live in California for at least 6 months and the county where divorce is filed for at least 3 months before filing. To file for legal separation or annulment, they can file as soon as they’ve moved to California.
  • Partner support – unlike spousal support generally, it will probably not be taxable to the person receiving and tax deductible for the person paying.
  • The law allowing for domestic partners to obtain dissolutions, legal separations and annulments is new. There are many things that are still uncertain regarding property, custody and tax issues. It is important to talk to an attorney who is knowledgeable about the law in this area.

Summary dissolution

Domestic partners in special, simplified circumstances are eligible for a “streamlined” dissolution of the relationship; see the information about summary dissolutions.

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