If you wish to end things with your spouse, divorce might not be your only option. The California family courts offer alternatives to traditional divorce, each with unique advantages. One of these alternatives might be the right choice to save you and your family the stress, money and time of a divorce trial. Discuss all of your legal options with an attorney today for more information.
Legal separation is a popular alternative to divorce in California. With a legal separation, a couple is still technically married. However, they can lead separate lives and divide all of their marital property, similar to a divorce. Although a couple that is legally separated cannot remarry unless they get divorced, legal separation can come with unique benefits, such as:
- Retaining insurance or employment benefits received through a spouse
- Retaining certain military benefits
- Protecting your financial assets while living apart
- Respecting one’s religious or personal beliefs
- Being able to reconcile without needing to remarry
- Receiving tax benefits, in some situations
Getting a legal separation in California requires you and your spouse to fill out the required paperwork and submit it to a judge in the family court. This paperwork will ask you to make decisions about child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, and the division of property. If you and your spouse cannot agree on the details of your separation, a judge can make these decisions for you.
Conscious uncoupling is an option for divorce that focuses on minimizing disagreements by working through a breakup in a shared spirit of respect, cooperation and compromise. It is a term coined by family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas. It is not a legally binding process, but it aims to put a family on a path to success by minimizing the emotional impact of a divorce or separation. It can be something that you and your spouse use as a framework for a more successful divorce.
Mediation is not an alternative to divorce, but rather an alternative way to get divorced. Mediation allows you and your ex-spouse to discuss and determine the terms of your divorce (or legal separation) between yourselves, without a judge making any decisions for you. Although the mediator can interject to help you and your spouse come to a compromise, the mediator does not have the power to issue a judgment. A similar alternative dispute resolution option is arbitration. There is binding and nonbinding arbitration available, depending on whether or not the couple wants the arbitrator to be able to create a divorce order.
An annulment is different from a divorce in that if a marriage is annulled, it is as if it never happened. A divorce, on the other hand, recognizes that the couple was once legally married but now the marriage has been dissolved. You may qualify for an annulment if something about your relationship invalidated the marriage or proves that it was never a legally enforceable or recognized union to begin with. Common examples include:
- A marriage where one of the parties was under the age of 18 or mentally incapacitated
- A marriage where one of the parties was already married
- A bigamous or incestuous marriage
- A marriage entered into by fraud, deceit or misrepresentation
Note that to obtain an annulment in California, you must prove that there is a legal reason why your marriage or domestic partnership can be declared “void.” It is not enough to cite irreconcilable differences. If you do not have a reason that makes your marriage invalid, you may not be eligible to file for an annulment. Explore all of your alternative options to divorce in California by contacting an attorney today.