A court of law is the only way one can obtain a divorce decree, dissolution, legal separation, nullity or other form of terminating a marriage. Other than the termination of the marital estate, the court also has jurisdiction to resolve other issues that are intertwined in the existing marriage which include, but are not limited to: custody and visitation rights, division of property of the marital estate, spousal support, child support, restraining orders, etc.
There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage, and the other spouse/partner, even if he or she does not want to get a divorce, cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.
After you decide how you want to end your marriage or domestic partnership, you need to plan your case ahead of time. Think about how you are going to handle your case. Planning before you start and talking to a lawyer can save you time and money as you go through the court process.
If you want to end a registered domestic partnership, domestic partners must also file for dissolution (divorce), legal separation, or annulment to end their relationship. There is a limited exception where domestic partners can end their relationship in a summary process through the Secretary of State if they have been registered for less than five years and they have no children, no real property, very few assets or debts, and a written agreement on dividing their property, in addition to other restrictions.
Property and Debt Division:
Marital property attained during marriage, regardless of whose name it is under, can be divided. Marital property can include real estate (including a home bought in contemplation of marriage), pension plans, vehicles, bank accounts, income tax refunds and/or household furnishings. However, property that is inherited by one spouse is not considered marital property, i.e. a family business or estate. If you are contractually bound with your ex-spouse on a debt, the creditor can require the entire payment of that debt from your share of the community property even though the divorce decree assigns the debt to your ex-spouse. Depending on the terms of your divorce decree, you may be able to have certain support obligations under the divorce decree determined to be non-dischargeable by the bankruptcy court or in state court.
A prenuptial, or premarital agreement (often referred to as a "pre-nup") is a written contract created by two individuals who plan to be married. This agreement lists all individually owned property, such as homes and businesses, family assets, stocks and bonds, savings accounts as well as debts, and specifies what will and will not remain individually owned property after the legalization of marriage. Prenuptial agreements also specify whether spousal support will be paid in the event of a divorce, and the intentions regarding distribution of individually owned property upon death. A factor that cannot be stipulated in a prenuptial agreement is child support. A couple cannot lawfully agree in a prenuptial agreement that either part will in no way be responsible for child support. Also, a few states do not allow prenuptial agreements to modify or eliminate the right of a spouse to receive court-ordered alimony at divorce, although a prenuptial agreement can facilitate in the degree of compensation.
The basic attitude marking divorce mediation is a focus on solving problems, not fighting the fight. Family mediation is a voluntary process which gives a divorcing or separating couple the opportunity to make their own arrangements for their financial and personal future, while protecting themselves and their children from distress and the needless expense of litigation. The strength of a mediated agreement is that it is built by both parties together in an open process that requires all participants to recognize and make accommodation for the needs of the other participants, often without having to compromise one’s own. While no two situations are alike, the emphasis in a mediated approach is to achieve a satisfactory settlement in an efficient, cooperative manner. This might include "four-way" settlement conferences where the parties meet along with their divorce mediation lawyers to work on a settlement. The philosophy of Divorce Mediation is that as much effort should be exerted toward settlement as is traditionally spent in preparation for and conducting a trial.