A dissolution of marriage means divorce. It is a legal process in which a marriage is dissolved or terminated. A final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage terminates the marriage, determines rights to property and obligations for debts between the parties, and provides court orders for child custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support. In California, divorce is ‘no-fault’ and does not require the consent of the other party. A divorce can be final in as little as six months and one day. Once the marriage is dissolved, the parties may remarry.
A legal separation is the same as a divorce except that at the end of the process, the parties are still legally married and may not remarry. Some parties elect this option for religious or cultural reasons or because one of the parties has significant medical needs and may not be able obtain health insurance once no longer married to the spouse. After a Judgment of Legal Separation is entered, either party may file a separate dissolution action to terminate the marital status (i.e., to become divorced) but may not reopen the issues already decided in the Legal Separation (such as property and debt division). Once a Judgment of Legal Separation has been granted, neither party may amend the Judgment for a Judgment of Dissolution (a separate action for dissolution must be filed).
A nullity (also called an “annulment”) is a legal status which, if granted, means the marriage ‘never existed.’ A nullity can only be granted if certain grounds exist which the party can prove to the satisfaction of the court.
Dissolution/divorce/nullity: A Final Judgment of Dissolution or Nullity may not be entered unless one of the parties has been a California resident for the last six months, and a resident of the County in which the Petition was filed for the last three months, prior to the filing of the Petition for Dissolution or Nullity. Venue is proper in the Superior Court for the County where the Petitioner or Respondent has resided for the three months prior to the filing of the Petition for Dissolution or Nullity. The residency requirements for same sex couples who married in California but reside in jurisdictions which do not dissolve same sex marriage are different. A Judgment for Dissolution, Legal Separation or Nullity may be entered even if neither spouse is a resident of, or maintains a domicile in, California at the time the proceedings are filed if (1) the marriage was entered into in California and (2) neither party resides in a jurisdiction that will dissolve the marriage. For these same sex spouses, venue is proper in the county in which the couple was married.
Legal separation: There is no minimum amount of time a party must reside in California before filing a Petition for Legal Separation. A party may file a Petition for Legal Separation in the Superior Court of the county in which either the moving party or the responding party resides. A party which does not meet the residency requirements to file for a Dissolution of Marriage may instead file a Petition for Legal Separation and then convert the action to one for Dissolution once the residency requirements are met.
Community property is generally any real or personal property, wherever located, which has been acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in California. Both parties equally own community property. The same applies to debts acquired during the marriage.
Separate property is generally any real or personal property acquired by a party prior to marriage or after the date of separation. Separate property also includes any property acquired at any time by gift, bequest, devise or descent. Separate property belongs to the party acquiring it.
Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the parties’ minor child. A court order for joint legal custody means that both parties have the right and responsibility for making these decisions; joint consent is not usually required unless the court specifies circumstances requiring joint consent. A court order for sole legal custody means that only one party has the right and responsibility for making these decisions.