Is California a no-fault divorce state? This is one of the common questions we come across in our law practice.
Whether you are considering a divorce or your spouse has filed a petition for divorce, you might be wondering what the grounds for divorce are in California.
In this blog post, we will answer this question and list the steps to take for a no-fault or ‘at fault’ divorce in California.
But first, let’s see what a no-fault divorce is.
What is meant by a no-fault divorce?
A no-fault divorce is a divorce where one spouse need not allege that the other spouse did anything wrong in order to get a divorce.
No-fault divorces are available in most states and can be filed by either spouse. As of 2021, across seventeen states in the U.S., you can only file for a ‘no-fault divorce. These are the states to have ‘true no fault’ laws in place.
Grounds for a no-fault divorce in California
The most commonly used grounds for a no-fault divorce are:
Incompatibility or “irreconcilable differences” – Incompatibility is when the partners have different lifestyles that they cannot adjust to. For example, one partner may have a particular religious belief while the other is not religious at all.
Irreconcilable differences are when both parties can’t get on with each other and have made an effort to do so but still can’t reach a compromise. For example, one partner may want to live in the country while the other wants to live in town.
Incurable insanity: While this is not one of the commonly used grounds for divorce, there is an option to file for divorce on the grounds that one spouse has“incurable insanity.”
However, the spouse petitioning for divorce has to provide reliable psychiatric and medical testimony to prove that their spouse is incurably insane.
What is an at-fault divorce?
An at-fault divorce is a type of divorce where one spouse is found to have committed some form of wrongdoing. This wrongdoing is often grounds for a divorce, and it may be necessary for one spouse to prove that the other spouse was at fault in order to receive a divorce.
Grounds for an at-fault divorce can be any one of the following:
- Unreasonable refusal to consummate the marriage, or unreasonable refusal or persistent neglect to provide suitable support and maintenance for his spouse.
- Conviction of a felony
- Willful desertion, cruel treatment, or neglect that causes physical injury or harms health.
- Voluntary separation by both parties for more than one year with agreement that the separation is permanent and without cohabitation during the time period.
While many states allow ‘fault’ divorces, in some states where covenant marriages are allowed, the list of these wrongdoings is specified. This type of marriage is more difficult to get into and out of than other types of marriages.
In order for a couple to have a covenant marriage, they must both sign a legal document called the “covenant” before they are married. The covenant must be signed by both spouses, and it can’t be changed or terminated without their mutual consent.
A covenant marriage can only be broken if there is wrongdoing such as:
- emotional abuse
- criminal conviction
- legal separation
- alcohol abuse
Now to answer your question, “is California a no-fault divorce state?”
California is a no-fault state
All divorces in California are “no-fault” divorces. This means that you do not need to prove any wrongdoing on the part of your spouse to get a divorce.
Citing“irreconcilable differences” is enough to file for and get a divorce in California.
In fact, California is the first state to adopt a ‘no-fault’ divorce law in 1969 after signing into law the California Family Law Act.
The objective of this law was to prevent hostilities and prolonged legal battles that often ensue when each party tries to prove the other committed some wrongdoing.
Who can file for a no-fault divorce in California?
The only requirement to file for a divorce in California is that one spouse must be a resident of California. Alternatively, one spouse must have lived in California for the last six months and for the past three months in their current California county prior to filing.
In order to file, you need to be at least 18 years old and you need to have been married for at least six months. If you meet these requirements, you can file for divorce in California without having to prove any wrongdoing.
Benefits of a no-fault divorce
No-fault divorces are becoming more common, and they have many benefits.
A no-fault divorce is a way for couples to get divorced without having to prove that one spouse is at fault for the breakup. All you need to state is “irreconcilable differences.”
One of the most significant benefits of a no-fault divorce is that it can save you time and money. If you’re not fighting over child custody or property, then you don’t have to go through expensive legal proceedings.
You’re also not spending time in court, which means you can spend more time with your children and work on rebuilding your life.
In addition, no-fault divorces are less emotionally taxing than traditional divorces because they only require people to prove that they are irreconcilable differences.
A no-fault divorce is the best option for people who have already made their peace with their divorce and have a new life moving forward.
Best of all, this kind of divorce can be filed with ease without the need for any evidence from either side.
In most cases, it also makes it easier to divide property and make decisions about child custody, child support, and spousal support.
How soon can you get a divorce in California?
Once you file a petition for a no-fault divorce, you will need to wait for at least six months in California for your divorce decree to be issued.
This is because California has mandated a waiting period of six months to grant a divorce.
However, many times it can take up to a year or more for the divorce to be finalized.
While these are the benefits of no-fault divorce, you may be wondering how will factors such as domestic violence, adultery, or abuse impact your divorce in California.
How does adultery or other ‘faults’ impact your divorce in California?
You already know that adultery or other faults are not considered to be a ground for divorce. The only ground for a California divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
However, wrongdoings such as domestic violence, adultery, cruelty, and negligence of parental duties can play a role in divorce. These faults can influence court decisions on child custody arrangements, alimony, and property distribution.
Child custody: In California, child custody is decided on the basis of the “best interests of the child”.
The court will look at various factors to decide what is best for a child. These factors include:
- The wishes of the parents
- Whether one parent has been convicted of a crime that would make them unfit to care for a child
- Which parent has been more involved in taking care of and raising the children in recent years
- Which parent can provide better financial support
- Whether one parent has engaged in abuse or neglect
- Whether one parent is more likely to allow the other to have contact with the children
Courts are typically not likely to award sole custody only on the basis of incompatibility or even, adultery. For instance, if a parent commits adultery, it is not a reflection of their parenting capabilities.
Property division: California is one of the states that have community property laws. This means that all assets and liabilities acquired during the marriage are divided equally between spouses. T
The court will consider both parties’ incomes and debts, as well as other factors when deciding how to divide up marital property.
While equitable distribution of marital property is the rule, there can be exceptions in case one spouse intentionally hides assets while the process of divorce is
For example, if one spouse attempts to hide assets from the other spouse, the court can impose sanctions on the former. This can mean the other spouse gets a higher share of the assets.
In case of domestic violence or criminal conviction, the court can order the ‘at fault’ spouse to cover their attorney fees and other legal costs from the marital assets.
The ‘injured’ spouse can also be awarded 100 percent of the pension and retirement benefits of the community property in some cases.
Similarly, if your spouse used the community property to maintain their extra-marital affair, you may be able to recover this amount from your spouse’s share of the property.
Spousal support: Spousal support is a form of financial support that is paid by one spouse to the other spouse. Spousal support can be temporary, permanent, or indefinite. The purpose of spousal support is to cater to the needs of the supported spouse who would have difficulty supporting themselves financially.
There are two types of spousal support:
- temporary support which terminates upon the death or remarriage of either party; and
- permanent spousal support which terminates only upon the death of one party or court order.
In California, there are several factors that are considered when determining whether spousal support should be granted and how long it should last including:
- How much money each spouse makes
- How long they were married
- The age and health (including any disability) of each spouse
- the earning capabilities of each spouse
- The length of time since the divorce was finalized (the longer it’s been, the less likely there will be a need for spousal support)
While the objective of spousal support is to not encourage lifelong dependence on the support, in some cases, courts will look into factors such as domestic violence or adultery.
According to California’s Family Code Sections (40320(m), 4325 e), courts will consider the criminal conviction in determining spousal support. This means that the abusive spouse will not be awarded spousal support in case of a criminal conviction.
If your spouse is violent or abusive, you can also get a restraining order from a judge to protect yourself and your children.
History of domestic violence or cruelty can also play a role in the amount of spousal support awarded.
How to get a no-fault divorce in California?
No-fault divorces in California are not very complicated. The process is straightforward and the time frame for a no-fault divorce is usually about six months.
The first step in getting a no-fault divorce is to file a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court, which can be done online.
Once you have filed your petition, you will need to wait for 30 days before submitting any other paperwork to the court.
You will then need to serve your spouse with the petition and all related documents. After that, both spouses will attend an orientation session on family law that lasts about 2 hours.
Finally, both spouses must attend a settlement conference where they will try to come up with an agreement on how they want their property divided and who will get custody of their children.
Do you need a lawyer for a no-fault divorce in California?
When we think of a lawyer, we usually think of someone who helps people with legal disputes. But lawyers can also help people with uncontested legal issues. For example, they can help you get a divorce without going to court.
Moreover, a family law attorney can help with
- legal document preparation
- advising you on divorce options
- guiding you with respect to mediation and other divorce processes
- protecting your rights when it comes to child custody, property division, and spousal support
As a leading family law firm in California, we at Heath Baker Law Offices offer experienced legal advise and representation to help you achieve the best outcome.Book a consultation today to know more about our services.