Ending a Marriage - Starting a New Life
A divorce is just one way to end a marriage. No matter how it’s done it means the end of one relationship but the start of a new chapter in your life. There are different ways how the marriage can legally end. Which way is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and your future plans.
A marriage can end by a judgment of nullity (or “annulment”). If granted by the court, as far as the law is concerned the marriage never existed because the two of you were never legally married in the first place. The grounds for nullity include fraud; bigamy; at least one party was under age; one party was of unsound mind; force; physical incapacity; or incest.
If there’s an annulment, there may or may not be a legal basis for an award of property gained during what was thought to be the marriage.
- Property could be seen as "quasi-community property" and there could be an award of spousal support if the party in good faith believed the marriage was legal. That person would be considered a "putative spouse" which would entitle him or her to the same rights he or she would receive if the marriage been valid and a divorce took place.
- If a person understood the marriage wasn’t valid he or she would be declared a "meretricious spouse" and have no rights concerning property under family law but such rights might be pursued through contract law (also referred to in California as a “Marvin” action).
2. Decree of legal separation
Legal separation by "decree" is a judgment on all issue, but reserves the termination of marital status, meaning the parties remain legally married.
Separation without a decree means that one of the parties intends to end the relationship, has communicated that intent to the other party, and lives in a separate residence away from the other party.
When there is legal separation by "decree" issued by a court the parties are still considered married. They file joint tax returns, acquire separate property, or can likely remain on the other party’s health insurance. This is relatively rare and may be the preferred resolution if one or both parties don’t want a divorce for religious or other reasons.
In California it’s not necessary for both spouses to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse can file for divorce and the other cannot stop the process even if he or she wants to continue the marriage. If the unwilling spouse decides not to participate in the case, the other spouse may obtain a “default” judgment and the divorce will proceed.
California is a “no-fault” divorce state, so the spouse seeking the divorce need not prove the other spouse did something wrong. To obtain a no-fault divorce one simply has to state the spouses cannot get along because of “irreconcilable differences.”
If the married couple acquired community property (property gained or the increase in value of separate property during the marriage), normally it is evenly split between the two. The community may have acquired an interest in a spouse’s separate property during the marriage and this will be discussed with and analyzed by your attorney.
One party may or may not be entitled to spousal support during the divorce process or after the divorce is entered.
If you live in Orange County and want to end your marriage contact our office so we can discuss which method may be right for you, the legal process involved and how we can help.