Divorce, Legal Separation, and Annulment are the three main ways to legally end a marriage in California. In addition to the above-mentioned options of terminating a marriage, there are multiple methods or processes to achieve a divorce, legal separation or annulment. Each method can yield different results and have varied implications for your and your former spouse’s personal and financial future.
Also referred to as “dissolution”, divorce is the most common method of concluding a marriage. Either spouse or partner can petition the court for divorce, citing a reason for the breakdown of the marriage from a number of predetermined options. Divorces are often complex, seeking to legally settle issues ranging from property division, child custody, visitation and support, spousal support and much more. As there are many considerations to undertake, divorce can be a complicated process and it is important to speak with a family law attorney to better understand the legal rights and issues in your case. The desired result of a divorce or dissolution is to obtain a judgment which not only resolves the aforementioned issues, but also finalizes the separation of the couple so they are able to, if they so desire, marry in the future.
In a Legal Separation case, the two parties will obtain a judgment which settles all issues, i.e., division of property, any spousal or child support, or child custody and parenting timeshare, just like a divorce judgment. Many of the processes, forms, and legal requirements mirror those of a divorce proceeding. However, the difference is that the parties will still be considered legally married when the case is finalized. This option is often utilized by those who, for personal or religious reasons, do not want to formally end their marriage and can no longer or want to live together as man and wife. (In the past, Legal Separation was commonly utilized to maintain health insurance between former spouses.)
Mediation is a voluntary endeavor and frequently used to reach a divorce settlement agreement with little court involvement. This method works especially well if the parties involved are capable of cooperating to reach an agreement on some, or all, of the issues. The mediator, a neutral individual, often an attorney, assists the parties in reaching an agreement which can be creative, detailed and tailored to the parties’ specific needs. There are many benefits of mediating a divorce including saving the time and costs associated with traditional litigation and the two parties are in control of the process and how quickly the case is finished, not the court system. In addition to increased privacy and saved costs of mediation, the agreement reached, once filed with the court and signed by a judge, becomes a fully enforceable order of the court, akin to a judgment.
Known as a court-free way of getting divorced, this route is similar to mediation and is also voluntary. However, each party is represented by an attorney. Both spouses or partners sign a contract agreeing to resolve all issues outside of court. Occasionally, other family law professionals are involved, i.e., therapists, child custody specialists, and financial experts. The goal is to settle all aspects of the divorce or separation with a written agreement. Similar to mediation, the written agreement can be a tailored, creative solution and becomes a legally enforceable document.
Limited Scope is different from hiring a lawyer in the traditional sense, where the lawyer handles all aspects of the divorce case from start to finish. Rather, with Limited Scope Representation, the lawyer handles some parts of the case and the client handles others. For instance, the lawyer might be hired to prepare and draft court documents but the client files the documents and represents him/herself at hearings. This is also referred to as “unbundling”. For divorces that are not highly contentious or complex, the option of limited scope can help save costs associated with traditional representation while providing access to sound legal counsel throughout the process.
These are quite rare and often difficult to obtain. Annulments can only be granted under the following circumstances: Age at the time of marriage, incest, bigamy, unsound mind, fraud, force or physical incapacity. Each circumstance often requires proof or additional information in order for the court to move forward. Once the parties obtain a judgment in an annulment case, referred to as a, “nullity”, it is as if the parties had never married. This can lead to additional legal considerations if there are children from the marriage and has implications on the ability to receive spousal support and claims to “community” property or debt.
As detailed above, spouses and partners have important choices to make about how to proceed and what type of assistance to ask from lawyers, mediators, and other family law professionals. When two parties in a divorce have a modicum of integrity and enjoy a little dignity, this will enable cooperation and the capability to ponder largely about the big picture, rather than logic being hijacked by emotional chaos or greed.