We’ve all seen dramatic divorces on TV where the couple goes to court and airs all their dirty laundry. It’s usually satisfying to see the cheating or abusive spouse get their comeuppance with a judgment that forces them to pay for their wrongdoing. In the real world, that’s called a “fault divorce.”

In a fault divorce case, you and your spouse have the chance to prove the wrongdoing that led to the end of your marriage in court. If you manage to do it successfully, then you might end up with a better divorce deal. States that allow fault divorces have a list of acceptable fault grounds.

On the other hand, a no-fault divorce means the court does not require either spouse to place blame for the failed marriage on the other person. One spouse only needs to claim that the marriage is unsalvageable to start the divorce proceeding. It’s a stark contrast to fault-based divorce states that allow spouses to provide reasons for the divorce, such as adultery, substance abuse, or abandonment.

Which type of divorce applies to you specifically comes down to the state you live in. If you’re in California, then you’re in luck—California is a “no-fault” divorce state. In fact, it was the first state to enact a purely no-fault divorce law in 1969.

This article covers everything you need to know about getting a no-fault divorce, with information on how you can get assistance if you live in California.

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Grounds for Divorce in California

California is a purely no-fault divorce state, and that’s the only option divorcing couples have. The difference between a fault and no-fault divorce can be substantial.

A fault-based divorce is, by default, a contested divorce. If you and your spouse can agree to amicably resolve family law matters—property division, child custody, child support, and alimony—there’s no need to prove fault. In such cases, choosing a no-fault divorce is a no-brainer.

California courts won’t allow you to formally allege marital fault in the divorce papers or in court. The court also won’t consider alleged misconducts such as abandonment or adultery when deciding who gets what during the division of marital assets.

There are only two grounds for divorce in California:

  • Irreconcilable differences – The majority of divorces in California are due to “irreconcilable differences.” This means the state does not need a couple to testify in court about why they are ending their marriage.
  • Permanent legal incapacity – This ground for divorce is rarer because it requires a spouse to provide credible proof that their partner has “incurable insanity.” It is only applicable in cases of serious mental illness. To qualify, you must provide valid documentation to the court demonstrating that your spouse was incapacitated when you filed the divorce petition.

California’s simple approach to divorce makes for a less stressful experience and cuts down on the required paperwork. This means you can end your marriage without having to fight over who was wrong and instead focus on moving forward.

What Is a Husband or Wife Entitled to in a Divorce?

In California, a community property state, no-fault divorce makes sense. In community property states, courts have more restrictive guidelines regarding the distribution of assets when a marriage ends. A divorcing couple must split their collective marital property, or “community property,” 50/50. This includes income earned by either party during the marriage as well as any debts accrued. Assets acquired before the marriage and any inheritances or gifts obtained during the marriage are considered separate property and are exempt.

Adultery or abuse that occurred before the divorce was filed won’t factor into the division of assets. However, any similar behavior that is directly related to the divorce itself can have financial consequences. Abuse and other faults may also be taken into account if minor children are involved, but only if they present a direct threat to a child’s wellbeing.

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Exceptions to Fault Considerations

As alluded to in the last section, some exceptions to California’s no-fault rule apply to bad behavior that occurs during the divorce itself. For example, if one spouse attempts to hide assets from the other spouse during the divorce process, then the sneaky spouse may face repercussions that can sometimes result in the behaved spouse getting more than their fair share of the community property. A judge may force the sneaky spouse to give up the entirety of the hidden assets to the other party.

Judges sometimes also make exceptions to protect a vulnerable spouse from harm while the divorce is ongoing. For instance, if the relationship has a history of domestic violence, then the victim may be awarded a restraining order to prevent conflicts that occur over the course of the divorce from turning deadly.

Child custody is another situation where fault might impact a divorce’s outcome. If a parent has been violent or abusive with a minor child, then they may be less likely to receive unsupervised parenting time. That being said, family courts put the best interests of the child first. Joint custody is by default considered to be in the child’s best interest except in extenuating circumstances.

Courts generally only award sole custody if the other parent is clearly incompetent or dangerous. A parent’s treatment of their spouse, outside of abuse, is irrelevant to their parenting ability. For example, a spouse who committed adultery can still be readily awarded custody.

How Long Does a No-Fault Divorce Take?

With the number of hoops you have to jump through to finalize a divorce, you’re probably wondering: How long does it take to get a divorce in California? The short answer is that it depends.

The amount of time divorce proceedings take will vary depending on the specific circumstances of a case. However, due to its simplicity, a no-fault divorce is generally much quicker than a fault one.

California courts have a mandatory six-month waiting period before they issue a divorce decree. So, regardless of every other factor, you have to wait six months after filing the divorce petition to finalize your divorce. This rule applies even if you and your spouse separated decades ago.

If you want to leave your spouse quickly, file the divorce paperwork ASAP and pay the required filing fee to get the ball rolling.

One way to expedite the process is to opt for a summary dissolution. To qualify, the divorce must be uncontested and:

  • Your spouse must agree to sign a joint petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Marital Termination Agreement
  • The marriage must be less than five years old
  • There are no minor children involved
  • The value of your community property is less than $40,000
  • Neither of you own any real property (i.e. houses, rental properties, etc.)
  • Your shared debts and obligations are less than $6,000
  • You and your spouse are both in agreement about how to divide your community assets and debts

If said yes to all of the above, then you may qualify for a summary dissolution proceeding. Check out the family law statutes in our online family law library to learn more.

Note: California courts won’t accept your divorce petition unless you meet the state’s residency requirement. A couple can’t file for divorce in California unless one spouse has been a resident for at least six months. You also have to have lived in the filing county for at least three months.

Get Assistance With Your California Divorce

Divorce litigation is stressful no matter how you slice it. The good news is that unlike in movies and TV shows, no-fault divorces usually don’t make it to court. Removing marital fault from the equation means no one needs to prove their case in court, which significantly cuts down the divorce process.

However, that doesn’t mean a no-fault divorce is a walk in the park. If you and your spouse have disagreements, then you may need to hire a divorce attorney or mediator to help you work out your differences outside court. Hiring a family law attorney in California can get pricey, and it’s generally not recommended unless there’s absolutely no chance you two can reach a resolution.

If you’re going through an uncontested divorce, then you can actually manage the whole process on your own. Alternatively, you can opt to have a service like A People’s Choice do the required paperwork for you. Starting from just $250, our team of legal document assistants can provide fast documentation preparation and filing instructions. While we can’t offer legal advice, we’ve helped hundreds of couples filing for divorce in California. Call us today to get started!

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