Residency Requirements and Grounds for Divorce
You must be a California resident for six months and a county resident for three months to file for a divorce, called a "dissolution."
Either spouse can get a divorce simply by stating in divorce papers that "irreconcilable differences" have caused a break-up. If both of you agree to the divorce, you can put the agreement in writing (called a "stipulation") to end your marriage. Another ground for divorce is a spouse's incurable insanity.
Your divorce case begins when you or your spouse file a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" with the Superior Court. The other spouse is then served with the paperwork and given time to respond. If you agree on property and debt division, as well as child custody and child support matters, the divorce can be finalized without a trial. If the can't agree, the court schedules a hearing for your case.
A summary disposition or simple divorce process is an option if a couple doesn't have children, very little property and debt, and neither spouse seeks support.
Once you file, either party can request temporary assistance from the court in the form of temporary custody and child support orders, and orders to determine who pays community debts on a temporary basis.
Dividing the Property
California is a "community property" state, which means that assets and debts acquired during marriage are divided equally in a divorce.
Each spouse keeps their separate property, which can include:
- Assets you had before marriage, if you kept them separate from community property
- Income from separate property
- Property you acquire during marriage by inheritance or gift
Be prepared with information on your property, including when you purchased it, an estimate of value, and details such as account numbers, serial numbers and so forth. You'll be ready to meet with a California divorce lawyer and it can save you a lot of time and money.
A court can order alimony - also called "spousal support," as it finds just and reasonable. Factors considered in awarding spousal support include:
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Marriage duration
- Needs of each spouse
- Financial resources and liabilities of each spouse
- Impact on the children if the caregiver parent must work
- Each spouse's contributions to the education and career-building of the other spouse and in homemaking
- Tax consequences
- All sources of income available to each spouse
Child Custody and Visitation
In California, the court will make child custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child if the parents can't come to an agreement. Joint custody is presumed to be in a child's best interest under state law. In deciding custody issues, a court considers these factors:
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child an ongoing relationship with the other parent
- The history of contact between the parents and the child
- The child's health, safety and welfare
- The parents' health and mental histories, including any alcohol or drug abuse problems
- The child's preference, if the child is old enough and has the maturity to express a preference
- Evidence of child abuse
After the custody order is signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk, both parents are bound by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, the parent can seek help from the court. The judge may decide to modify the visitation order, order makeup visitation for the time missed and order counseling or mediation.
In California, child support is based on:
- Both parents' incomes
- The number of children a parent must support
- The time the child spends with each parent
There's a calculator based on the Child Support Guidelines to figure the support obligation.
If necessary, a court can set aside a portion of joint or separate assets of the parties in a separate trust or fund for the support and education for the parties' children.
A child support order can be modified if there has been a change in circumstances. Examples of this would include:
- A big change in either parent's income
- The child spending a lot more time with either parent
- The child being several years older or extra financial needs such as schooling or medical expenses
Questions for Your Attorney