If you are married in California and are considering terminating your marriage, it would be a prudent idea to consult your family law attorney before you do so.  In California, you have three options to terminate your marriage or domestic partnership.

The option people are most familiar with is divorce.  Divorce is a proceeding that legally ends a marriage or domestic partnership. Also known as “dissolution,” divorce legally renders both parties single again. California law only provides for divorce on two grounds:  irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity.

There are two types of divorces available to California couples:  Summary Dissolution and Regular Dissolution.  The former is a simple process that does not require court hearings. A Summary Dissolution is  available only to couples who have been married or registered domestic partners for less than five years, have no children during their union, and own minimal properties and assets.  Couples who do not meet these criteria will have to go through the lengthier Regular Dissolution process.

California law also has residency requirements for parties who wish to file for divorce.   At least one of the partners must have resided in California for a minimum of six months and in the county where they plan to file for divorce a minimum of three months.

Besides dissolving the marital bonds, a divorcing couple may ask the court to decide on issues like child custody and visitation rights, spousal support, division of property, and other matters.

Another option is legal separation.  With this option, the parties remain married but agree to live separately. As with divorce, the court will be asked to intervene on pertinent matters such as child support, visitation rights, spousal support, and division of property.

Since the parties are still considered married, they cannot remarry even after the court has ordered them legally separated.  Legal separation, however, does not have the stringent residency requirements of divorce.  Couples who do not meet the residency requirements for divorce may file for a legal separation.  (They may file for divorce at a later time.)  Another reason for choosing legal separation over divorce is for religious reasons, since some religions like Roman Catholicism do not allow for divorce.

The third option is annulment. This is a proceeding in which the judge declares that the marriage was not legally valid to begin with.  Grounds for an invalid union include deceit or coercion.  It is also possible that one of the parties may have been too young to give legal consent, or that one party may have been currently married, making his or her marriage bigamous.

With three possible options, it is always best to consult your lawyer who can help decide which option suits you best.

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