California Divorce Basics

Learn the basics about the divorce process in California.

This article sets forth the general rules and procedures for obtaining a divorce in California. The rules and procedures apply to opposite-sex couples, legally married same-sex couples, and registered domestic partners who wish to dissolve their relationship.

Grounds for Divorce

California is a no-fault divorce state. This means that neither spouse is required to prove that one person was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, either spouse may file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences. You may also file for divorce based on incurable insanity, but a judge will only grant a divorce on these grounds if you show sufficient proof.

Residency Requirement and Waiting Period

At least one spouse must reside in California for six months before filing a petition for dissolution. You must also live in the county where the divorce is filed for at least three months prior to filing the petition. The earliest the court can grant a divorce in California is six months after the non-filing spouse is served with the petition or appears in court. Domestic partners do not have to prove residency - they can get a divorce in California even if they live somewhere else.

Property Division in California

California is a community property state. Property, including your home, income, and personal property that was acquired during the marriage is considered community property and will be divided equally by the court. The court will also equally divide any debts acquired during the marriage. Alternatively, you and your spouse can agree upon how to divide your property and avoid leaving it to the judge to decide. Keep in mind that any property that was acquired before marriage, after the date of separation, or by bequest or inheritance will remain the separate property of the spouse who acquired it.

(To learn more, see California Divorce: Dividing Property).

Alimony

One spouse may be required to provide support for the other after a divorce. The court will look at several factors to determine the amount of support including each spouse's income, the standard of living during the marriage, the age and health of each spouse, and the duration of the marriage. For a short term marriage (less than 10 years), the court will often order support to be paid for half the length of the marriage. This means that if you were married for 8 years, you may be obligated to pay support for up to 4 years. For a long term marriage, the order may continue until the recipient spouse is self-supporting.

(See Understanding and Calculating Alimony in California for detailed information).

Child Support

California has guidelines to determine how much child support you will pay, and the court will not often deviate from those guidelines unless you can show a very good reason. The guidelines are based on the parents' incomes and the percentage of time the child spends with each parent. The court may also order one parent to provide health insurance for the child. A child support order in California continues until the child graduates from high school or reaches age 19. It may continue longer if the child is disabled and unable to live independently. The Department of Child Support Services enforces child support orders and may take support payments directly from your paycheck. If you would like to modify child support, you must show the court that there has been a material change in circumstances related to the parents' incomes, the needs of the child, or the time-share of the child.

(Find more answers in California Child Support FAQ's).

Child Custody

In California either parent may be awarded physical or legal custody of the minor child. Courts generally allow the parents to create their own parenting schedule, but if they are unable to agree, a judge will make the decision based on the best interests of the child. The court will consider the health, safety, and welfare of the child, the nature and amount of contact with both parents, and any other factors it finds relevant to your specific situation. To modify a custody order, you must show significant changed circumstances and that it will be in your child's best interest to alter the current order. The court will also consider the best interest of the child if either parent requests a move-away order for the child. The moving parent must prove to the court that a move is in the child's best interest. The other parent may also provide evidence to show how a move might negatively impact the child.

(See Child Custody & Visitation in California for more in-depth information).

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