California allows married couples to legally separate, divorce, or annul a marriage. A divorce legally ends a marriage, distributes marital property, and terminates each spouse’s marital rights. California has residency requirements for divorce. Typically, you must have lived in California for at least six months (and in the county of filing for at least three months).

A legal separation is like a divorce, except that the couple cannot legally remarry (and may retain inheritance rights). Marital property is divided up and child custody and support may be awarded. Unlike divorce, legal separation does not have residency requirements in California.

An annulment voids a marriage (in other words, the marriage never occurred). If you have questions about whether to divorce, separate, or annul, contact an experienced lawyer for guidance.

What Paperwork Do You Need to File for Divorce? 

To file for divorce, you must file a series of paperwork with your county’s Superior Court. These documents include:

If you and your spouse have children, you will file additional forms (including a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act). Once you have filed your petition and other forms, the paperwork must be served to your spouse. You must have another adult deliver the paperwork—you cannot serve it yourself.

While you do not have to notify your spouse before filing divorce, it may be in your best interest. You may be able to negotiate the terms of your divorce amicably. However, if you are a victim of domestic violence, consider requesting a restraining order before filing for divorce.

How is Property Divided During a Divorce?

California is a community property state. In other words, the value of the couple’s marital property is calculated—and each spouse receives 50 percent. For example, one spouse could receive a piece of real estate, while the other gets a vehicle and other assets—but each spouse’s share must have the same value.

While marital property is evenly divided between spouses, you typically allowed to keep your separate property. This includes property you acquired:

  • Before the marriage,
  • Inheritances, and
  • Property excluded by a nuptial agreement. 

However, if you commingled separate property (allowing your spouse access and the benefits of the asset), it may be considered marital property.

If you have questions about property division, contact a divorce lawyer for assistance. A lawyer can help you value your marital property and negotiate a separation agreement (a contract that sets out how you will divide property and share parental responsibilities). 

What Should You Do If There are Children Involved? 

If you and your spouse have children, you must also address child custody and child support during your divorce. If you and your spouse cannot agree on child support and custody issues, the court will award custody and support based on a series of factors and guidelines.
 
It is important to form a fair and appropriate child support and custody plan before you divorce. It can be difficult to modify these orders later on—and disputes will result in additional attorney fees and costs.

Do You Need to Pay Alimony?

California courts weigh a series of factors before awarding alimony or spousal support. These factors include each spouse’s income, financial needs, and the length of the marriage. Alimony can be awarded on a temporary or long-term basis. (And can even be required while a divorce is pending.) An experienced family law attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations concerning spousal support.

Where Can You Find the Right Divorce Lawyer? 

Divorces can quickly become contentious and complicated. If your divorce will involve a significant property division, children, or alimony consider hiring a California divorce lawyer. A lawyer will advocate on your behalf and work to secure the best possible results.