Differences Between Divorce, Legal Separation, and Annulment in California: Why One Over the Other?

All states handle divorces differently. There are often several methods to file for divorce or legal separation. California offers three different ways to separate from your spouse, depending on the outcome you desire. An experienced attorney or mediator can help you decide which is best for your situation. Explore the different options available so you can discuss the best solution with your San Diego divorce attorney.

Divorce Laws in California

A divorce is also known as a dissolution of marriage. It’s aptly named because, in essence, you’re dissolving the legal bonds between yourself and your spouse. A divorce permanently ends the marriage. Afterwards, you’re considered single again, so you can remarry or become a domestic partner. During a divorce, you and your spouse will decide how to divide property and determine custody of any children you have.

You can file for divorce in CA on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, among others. This means neither party is “guilty”; you simply don’t want to be married anymore. This is different from fault states, which require you to prove why the marriage must be ended. Typically, a divorce in California takes about six months. It can take longer, but California requires a minimum six-month waiting period.

How Legal Separation Differs

A legal separation is almost like a trial divorce. While it doesn’t permanently end the bond, it does allow you to live separately and divide money, property, and child custody. You aren’t, however, legally allowed to remarry or enter into a domestic partnership.

If you’re legally separated, you have the option to amend the order in the future and get a legal divorce. Many couples opt to get a legal separation because their religion prevents them from getting a divorce. Unlike a divorce, which entails a six-month waiting period, legal separation is effective immediately. You will most likely still need to consult an experienced legal separation attorney.

Annulments Claim the Marriage Never Existed

Annulments are particularly interesting because they were filed on the grounds that the marriage wasn’t legally valid. There are several reasons why this could be the case:

  • An incestuous marriage will never be considered valid.
  • One partner was already married to someone else.
  • One partner was under the age of 18 when married.
  • Either partner was considered of “unsound mind.” This means one party didn’t understand the legal repercussions of marriage.
  • A spouse was tricked into marriage by fraud, threat, or force.
  • One spouse was incapable of “consummating” the marriage, which means he or she was physically incapacitated at the time.

Unlike divorce and separation, annulment requires you to prove one of these situations. Annulments are much more difficult to illustrate, and they require an experienced divorce attorney. Furthermore, there are strict statutes of limitations on annulments, too. Generally, it’s within four years of the marriage. An attorney can walk you through the specifics of your situation.

If you’re granted an annulment, you can remarry or enter a domestic partnership, and you may divide custody and visitation rights. Unlike divorces and separations, annulments don’t usually allow you to divide property and money. Because you claim the marriage was never valid, you also give up your rights to shared property.

An annulment does have residency requirements, though, so it may be right for you if you have been a resident of California for less than three months.

Work With an Experienced Divorce Attorney in San Diego, CA

It’s important to speak with an expert attorney if you’re considering a separation, divorce, or annulment. Boyd Law San Diego, CA family attorneys have extensive combined experience across a broad spectrum of California divorce laws. We work with clients in San Diego and the surrounding areas. Contact us today for more information and to begin exploring your legal options.