Ending Marriage: Divorce, Legal Separation, or Annulment?

how do i know if i should get a divorce

As a divorce lawyer, I believe in educating my clients about all their legal options regarding ending marriage in Ventura County or Los Angeles County.  If you are planning to end your marriage or domestic partnership, you should know that there are three different legal actions for doing so:

  • Dissolution, also known as divorce
  • Legal separation
  • Nullity, also known as an annulment

Most couples choose dissolution.  For couples who want to lead separate lives, but have reasons for maintaining their legal status as spouses, a legal separation may be appropriate.

Annulments are relatively rare because, as a practical matter, few couples satisfy the requirements for obtaining one.

End Marriage Through Dissolution (Divorce)

A divorce or dissolution is an action brought by one spouse or partner to end a marriage or domestic partnership.  To dissolve a marriage in California, you or your spouse must have been living in California for the last six months.  In addition, you or your spouse must have resided for three months in the county where you’re going to file for your divorce.

If you don’t meet the residency requirements, but want to begin a court action, you can file for a legal separation and later convert the case to a divorce. Special care should be taken prior to filing for those seeking a dissolution where there is domestic violence, a spouse is active military or there are immigration issues.

At the conclusion of a divorce the court will issue orders:

  • Restoring the parties to single status.
  • For custody and visitation for minor children of the marriage or partnership.
  • For child support for the minor children.
  • For spousal/partner support in appropriate cases.
  • Confirming or dividing community and separate property and debt.

Ending Marriage Through Legal Separation

A legal separation can be filed by a person who wants to separate from his or her spouse or domestic partner, but does not want to dissolve the legal relationship. If you are married, you can file for a legal separation in California if either you or your spouse is living in California.  There is no waiting period.

Similarly, if your domestic partnership is not registered in California, either of you can file for legal separation in California if one of you lives here. If your domestic partnership is registered in California, you or your partner can file for a legal separation in California, even if neither of you lives here.

Parties who are legally separated are not free to remarry or enter into another domestic partnership.  Sometimes couples choose a legal separation instead of a divorce for religious or personal beliefs or to maintain one party’s entitlement to health insurance or other benefits through the other party.

If you are thinking about a legal separation, you should know that your spouse or partner can choose a divorce instead.  The other party can respond to your petition for legal separation by asking the court to dissolve the marriage or partnership, which the court will then do.

Ending Marriage Through Annulment (Nullity)

This action can be filed by a married person or domestic partner to have the court declare that the marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid.  It restores the parties to single status, as if they were never married or domestic partners.

To qualify for an annulment, the marriage or partnership must be void or voidable, which means certain conditions must be met.  Grounds for annulment include bigamy, incest, mental incapacity, minority, fraud, or force.  Contrary to what many people believe, the length of the relationship does not matter.

The petitioner, the person who initiates the case, has the burden to prove to the court that one of the conditions for nullity has been met before the court will grant the annulment. Just as in a divorce or legal separation, the court can issue orders regarding property and debt division, custody, and support.

Summary Dissolution

You may want to check to see whether you qualify for a Summary Dissolution.

Consult Ventura County Divorce Lawyer Lisa Zonder

If you are contemplating ending your marriage or domestic partnership and want to talk to a compassionate and accessible divorce attorney, please contact me.

I offer numerous options to resolve your divorce confidentially, while keeping your costs down, reducing your frustration, and protecting your privacy.