Attorney Emily Doskow
June 2012, 4th Edition
Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce guides you through all stages of separation and divorce with practical wisdom and compassion. Make the process simpler and reduce your expenses armed with information that will help you:
Determine child support and make sure it’s enforced.
Work with mediators or lawyers.
Avoid expensive and painful court battles.
California Divorce Basics
If you’re a California resident getting ready to file for divorce in the Golden State, here’s the lowdown on the basics of divorce laws.
California Divorce Information
Residency Requirement. Before you can file for divorce in California, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for six months or 180 days. Once you’ve filed the divorce and delivered the paperwork to your spouse, you must wait at least six months from the date your spouse received the papers before the divorce can be finalized.
No Common Law Marriage. There’s no common law marriage in California—you aren’t married unless you obtained a marriage license and entered into a legal relationship, and you can’t get a legal divorce unless you were legally married. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived together or whether one of you took the other’s name.
Grounds for Divorce. California is a no-fault state, which means that you won’t argue for a divorce based on the other person’s wrongdoing. Most often, the basis for a divorce is “irreconcilable differences” that have caused the marriage to break down. Fault isn’t entirely irrelevant, though—if your spouse abandoned the family, committed adultery, or was violent, the court may consider those facts in dividing property or awarding alimony.
Property Division. California is one of only a handful of states that use a community property system, meaning that all of the property and debts that you acquired during your marriage are shared equally between the two of you at divorce. That includes income of all kinds, savings from income, property, and anything else that you own. However, it doesn’t include either spouse’s separate property, which includes inheritances, gifts, and property that the spouse owned before the marriage, as long as the separate property wasn’t mixed up with the marital property.
Child Custody. California courts begin with a presumption that it’s best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements. However, the details of the parenting plan will be determined by the children’s best interests. If parents can agree on a parenting plan, the court will usually approve it. If you’re not able to agree, you’ll be ordered to attend mediation sessions, and if that doesn’t work, the court will take over and the judge will decide how you’ll share time with your children.
Child Support. Like all states, California requires parents to support their children, even after a divorce. The amount of child support depends primarily on each parent’s income and other resources, and how much time each parent spends with the children. Sometimes the courts will “impute” income to a parent who has the capacity to earn more than he or she actually is earning.
Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce. Same-sex marriage isn’t legal in California now, but it was for a short period in 2008, and California also offers domestic partnership registration for same-sex couples. Any same-sex couple who registered or married in California at any time can get divorced in California, even if they don’t live in the state any more.
Resources. The California Judicial Council provides a great deal of information on its website at www.courts.ca.gov. You can get fill-in-the-blank forms and instructions there; you can also get the forms you need at your local courthouse or the local law library. Your county probably has information on its website about your local courts and divorce procedures.
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