California provides couples in the state with numerous options for legally ending a romantic relationship. Divorce, legal separation, and annulment to name the most common ways a relationship concludes under California law. Despite the differing terminology, it can be difficult to understand the distinction in these processes and to confuse matters further an Orange County CA divorce lawyer assists clients through each of these processes.

Yet, understanding how divorce, legal separation, annulment differ is important when making the decision to end a marriage or domestic partnership in Orange County CA. Here’s what you need to know about each process under state law.

Defining Divorce in California

We’ve all heard and used the term divorce. If you are contemplating the end of a marriage, divorce was likely the word that came to mind. However, in California, divorce has a specific legal meaning, and this meaning can differ from the definition used by other states. Divorce in California is the legal and finalized end of a marriage or domestic partnership. After an Orange County CA divorce lawyer helps you through this process, you are legally unmarried and free to marry another individual if you wish.

Throughout the United States, there are two types of divorce. An at-fault divorce state requires one partner or spouse to state a cause or reason for the divorce. The state may have a definite list of reasons for divorce, such as adultery or abuse, and a divorce decree will only be issued when one of those reasons is cited. Other states allow for no-fault divorce. In a no-fault divorce, the spouse requesting an end to the marriage doesn’t need to provide a reason or evidence of wrongdoing.

California is a no-fault divorce state. California specifically allows a spouse filing for divorce to cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for ending the marriage. Divorce is a definite process that requires spouses to divide finances, housing, shared business assets, and even child custody. As part of a divorce decree the court issues orders regarding child support payments, all custody and visitation, alimony or spousal support, and a full division of marital property. An Orange County CA divorce lawyer can represent you in each of these matters.

Explanation of Legal Separation

Legal separation is an alternative to divorce in California but does not legally end a marriage. Spouses in a legal separation can’t marry someone else or enter a domestic partnership with anyone else. A couple may choose to enter a legal separation if they don’t meet the residency requirements for divorce in California, or a spouse has moral, religious, or other objections to divorce. As well, not all matters of a marriage need to be divided or finalized in a legal separation, giving the spouses additional flexibility in the terms of the legal separation.

To facilitate a legal separation, both spouses are parties to a separation agreement. The terms of a separation agreement may include conditions for living arrangements, agreement over child care and custody, visitation rights, and division of property. Alternatively, a couple decides what is included in this agreement, and the spouses can decide to forego enumerating some or none of these separation terms.

An Orange County CA divorce lawyer or California family law lawyer can help draft, review, and negotiate this agreement on your behalf – and legal counsel can be extremely helpful. A separation agreement is a binding, legal contract, and both spouse are required to follow the terms stated in the document. Breach of a separation agreement can have serious repercussions, particularly if stated in the terms of the agreement.

Then, What Is an Annulment in California?

California also recognizes annulment as a formal end to a marriage. The official legal term for annulment is nullity of a marriage or nullity of a partnership, and an annulment does more than end or dissolve a marriage or domestic partnership.

The outcome of the annulment process is recognition that the marriage or partnership was never valid or enforceable. Therefore, a divorce court in California declares the relationship void.

Annulment in California is only appropriate in specific circumstances, making it an impossible option for many married couples. Some examples include when either spouse married under the age of 18, without parental consent; the marriage or domestic partnership was the result of fraud or deceit on the part of one or both spouses, and one or both spouses was legally married to another person when the marriage or domestic partnership was formed.

Proving eligibility for an annulment often seems straightforward, but few couples qualify. An Orange County CA divorce lawyer can help to identify if there is a legal reason your marriage or domestic partnership is voidable and collect evidence of this fact.

What Path Is Right for You?

Questions of eligibility and legal requirements could dictate the appropriate path to end your romantic relationship. Alternatively, you may choose a particular process based on preference, your family dynamic, or religious beliefs. In all of these instances, determining the right path to end a marriage or domestic partnership in California is a fact-intensive question. The advice and guidance of an Orange County CA divorce lawyer can help.

Contact our team of experienced family law practitioners at to learn more about divorce, legal separation annulment, or any family law issue in California.


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