Do I Need a Divorce to End a Short-Term Marriage in California?

If you’ve been married for only a short amount of time in California – for example just a matter of months or even just a few years – and either or your partner has decided to end the marriage, you may be wondering whether you have to go through a messy divorce process just to get back to where you were before the wedding.

In most cases, yes, you will need to obtain a divorce, or as it’s legally called a “dissolution” of the marriage. But it does not necessarily have to be “messy,” and if you have been married for less than five years, have no children with the other spouse, and neither spouse is interested in arguing over financial issues, California does offer a somewhat streamlined path out of the marriage called a “summary dissolution.”

A Word on Annulments in California

A common question that people who want to end a short-term marriage have is whether they can get an annulment. First off, it is important to distinguish between annulments in the legal sense and those in the religious sense. A church may or may not annul your marriage for purposes of your religious practice, but that has no relation to the legal process of a state declaring a marriage to be annulled.

In California, there are few situations in which a marriage can be annulled, which is to say that the state would declare it as never having been valid in the first place. Such situations include bigamy, where one party was underage at the time of marriage, or fraud. Which means that situation would need to be proved to the Court, unlike a typical divorce where no grounds for the divorce need to be proved. Furthermore, an annulment does not necessarily mean that there will not be issues of financial support, custody, or property to be worked out. All to say, there may be valid reasons to pursue an annulment, but quickly getting out of a short-term marriage you’ve determined to be a mistake is generally not one of those reasons.

Summary Dissolution in California

A Summary Dissolution is a procedure by which both spouses seeking the divorce work together to create a single filing that is provided to the Court and which will become final six months after it is filed without a hearing, trial, or further paperwork. Thus, choosing this process can be somewhat more streamlined and less costly than the alternative of a regular dissolution in that there is only a single filing fee (as opposed to expensive filing fees for both parties) and somewhat less paperwork involved.

Only certain divorcing couples, however, are eligible to obtain a summary dissolution, and the requirements, as of writing this blog, include:

  • A marriage of less than five years
  • Community assets of not more than $45,000
  • Neither party can have separate assets (premarital or gifted assets) of more than $45,000
  • Neither party can own real property (land or buildings)
  • There can be children of the marriage, and neither party can be pregnant
  • Neither party can be seeking spousal support from the other
  • The parties must be in agreement on how to divide their property, and the agreement of how to divide the property should be submitted with the paperwork

Please check the Superior Court website for your local State Court to confirm the current requirements for a summary dissolution. If this applies to you, then a summary dissolution may well be an ideal option for you based on the reduced fees and paperwork. But, that said, the benefits of a summary dissolution are not extraordinary in comparison with a regular dissolution where both parties agree on most if not all terms of the marriage, and both types of dissolutions require a minimum of six months before the divorce will be finalized.

Importantly, even if you have been married only a short time, you may still be eligible for significant spousal support and distribution of property in a high income divorce, and walking away from that – especially if you are not even sure what you would be entitled to under the law – for the modest convenience and savings a Summary Dissolution offers may not be in your best interests. It is generally best to consult with an experienced family law attorney before agreeing to any type of divorce settlement to learn about what you are entitled to under the law and what your options may be, even if you ultimately decide to pursue the route of the more streamlined Summary Dissolution.

Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.