With two months of 2019 in the books, the start of March, and spring are great times for people to take stock of the resolutions they made some sixty days ago or longer. With the divorce rate continuing to hover around fifty percent, many times resolutions revolve around a fresh start in relationships and life. In California, a marriage can be ended legally by three ways – dissolution (divorce), legal separation, or annulment. For most people, annulment is not an option, unless they had a weekend that was like something seen in the series of Hangover movies. Similarly, while legal separation is an option, it is generally not something that most people find palatable, as it contains all the trappings of divorce – without the status termination.
In California, there are many truths – and rumors about the dissolution process. The first, and most persistent rumor is that any sort of infidelity factors into how the divorce proceeds. While there may be circumstances where infidelity affects things, say, with regard to child custody, the truth is that California is a “no-fault” state. What this means is that irrespective of whether there was cheating on one or both sides, both sides are entitled to a divorce. In fact, the right to have one’s marriage terminated through legal proceedings is something that is available to every resident within the state.
Perhaps the second most popular rumor is that in California, a divorce can be done within six months. While the state does offer a procedure called “Summary Dissolution”, there are specific legal requirements parties must meet. In short, to qualify for summary dissolution, a couple must have been married for five years or less, have had no children, and be willing to waive requests for spousal support, among other things. While this is a great option for the specific subset of Californians who meet these requirements, most people do not fit into this category, and do not qualify for a six month dissolution. In reality, most contested dissolutions last at least two years, and in certain cases can last a lot longer. Of course, in any dissolution, the parties can reach an agreement at any time, which can be memorialized in a writing to end their case, but generally, such agreements are rare at the beginning of the dissolution process.
The third most popular rumor is that after a dissolution is filed – one or both of the parties can do “anything they want” with “their” property. While California does recognize separate property claims to items, in the absence of a pre-marital agreement, or meeting specific legal conditions, all property acquired during marriage is considered community property. Again, what this means is that both parties own what one person perceives as “their” property. It is also important to note that upon filing of a dissolution action, Family Code Section 2040 applies (the ATROS), which among other things, restrains both parties from taking action as to community property items. While certain actions are permissible, others, such as selling a non-filing spouse’s car without their consent, are not.
From here, the rumors and truths about dissolution only branch out further. Venturing into the forest without sound legal advice is always a risky proposition. If you’re considering a dissolution, don’t just trust what advice you receive from family and friends, or the internet, but contact an attorney who can guide you between what is real – and what is a dead end. Contact our office today with any dissolution questions you may have.
Christopher Sunnen, Esq. is a San Diego, CA based attorney specializing in family law and bankruptcy law.