The decision to end a marriage or domestic partnership can be extremely distressing. Our offices have over 35 years of experience in guiding our clients through the various ways of terminating a marriage in California and the process of helping to prepare the legal documents for a divorce, legal separation, or annulment. In moving forward, it will  first be important that you have a clear understanding of the various ways a marriage or a domestic partnership can be terminated in California, the differences between your options, and how each may affect your future.

Ways of Terminating a Marriage – What is a Divorce, Really?

A divorce (sometimes called a dissolution) is one of the most common ways of terminating a marriage or domestic partnership. From the moment that the court awards a divorce, the marital relationship is over. This is an important distinction when comparing a divorce to an annulment; divorces take effect from that point forward, while annulments reach back.

California is a no-fault state. This means that the party seeking the divorce does not have to prove any sort of wrongdoing on the part of their partner. Some states require that a person seeking a divorce prove some sort of wrongdoing by their spouse before they will allow a divorce. In California, you only need to assert that there are “irreconcilable differences.”

How Does a Legal Separation Work?

Similarly, you can file for a legal separation. A legal separation allows both spouses to keep their married status while agreeing to live separate lives in just about every other way. Finances, child rearing decisions, and control of property are all things that can be affected by applying for a legal separation. There may be reasons why a coupled might prefer filing for a legal separation and not a divorce or an annulment. In a legal separation, there are some marital benefits that the couple can keep such as keeping the other spouse on medical insurance, that would otherwise not be an option in a divorce proceeding.

It is important to understand that while you can remarry if you get a divorce or an annulment, a legal separation does not allow spouses to remarry. The marriage status is still maintained.

Should I Consider an Annulment?

An annulment is similar to a divorce, but as mentioned above, where a divorce looks from the moment of creation forward, an annulment reaches back to before the marriage license was signed and declares the entire marriage null and void.

The reasoning behind an annulment is that, because there was something that existed at the time of the marriage that would have made it illegal for the parties to be married, the marriage never legally existed. Because the marriage was never technically a marriage as defined by law, the court reaches back to the moment that it began and nips it in the bud.

Securing an annulment is incredibly rare. There are only a few specific reasons why a couple will be granted an annulment, and, barring your ability to prove these facts, the court will deny your request. The state of California splits these justifications into two categories: situations where the marriage is NEVER legal, and situations where the marriage MAY be declared illegal.

The following are situations where a marriage is NEVER legal:

  • Incest: The married parties or those in a domestic relationship are closely related by blood. Essentially, the parties must have been related to a degree that would violate the statutory definition of incest.
  • Bigamy: One of the partners is already married. As marriage can only be between two people, any subsequent marriages are void as a matter of law.

The following are situations where a marriage MAY be voided:

  • Fraud: If one of the parties in a marriage or domestic relationship lied about something that was crucial to the decision to get married, and this can be proven, then an annulment may be granted.
  • Force: If one party was forced into getting married, then the marriage is voidable.
  • Incapacity: If a party is unable to consummate the marriage at the time of marriage, and the problem persists, then the marriage may be voidable.
  • Unsound Mind: If it can be shown that one of the parties was unable to understand the significance or nature of the marriage or domestic relationship, then it may be voidable.
  • Age: If at the time of marriage or entering into the domestic relationship one of the parties was under the age of 18, the marriage is voidable.
  • Prior Existing Marriage or Domestic Relationship: This sounds like bigamy, but it is different. This concerns a situation where two marriages have occurred, but the second marriage occurs after a spouse from the first marriage has been missing for five years. In a case where the missing spouse returns to find his or her spouse has remarried, the marriage is voidable.

In considering the list above, it is important to distinguish between void and voidable. A marriage that is void is one that is illegal, regardless of the desires of the couple. Voidable, on the other hand means that either spouse has the option to void the marriage.

Moving Forward to Terminate Your Marriage

The process of ending your marriage or domestic partnership can be tedious and drawn out. If you have reached the decision that it is in the best interests of you and your spouse to go your separate ways, you do not have to take it all on by yourself. The team at A People’s Choice will help prepare the documents needed to get the process started, and help you make this transition into a new chapter as seamless as possible. Reach out to our offices today for a consultation.

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