What Are the Two Grounds for Divorce in California?

Divorce is never an easy decision. Most couples don’t consider divorce until they have exhausted other available resources. The process can be complicated and time-consuming, particularly depending on what state you reside in. Each state can establish its own requirements for filing a divorce, and these grounds change from state to state.

Some states require a spouse to prove specific reasons for filing for a divorce. Having to provide proof can add a financial burden to your proceedings and drag out the process. The state of California is a no-fault state. This means that when it comes to filing for a divorce in the state of California, the process can be relatively easy. California was one of the first states to establish no-fault proceedings in the hopes that it would make the process less complicated and costly for all parties involved.

Grounds for Divorce in California

There are two main grounds for divorce in California. These grounds vary, and each one requires a different process. It is important to understand the differences and speak to an experienced divorce attorney about which path may suit your circumstance.

Irreconcilable Differences

The first basis for divorce is irreconcilable differences that have caused the breakdown of the marriage. This simply means that somewhere down the line, things got so bad that it no longer seems possible to get the marriage back on track. This loose definition is loose for a reason; it allows the unique chance to divorce due to your specific circumstances. In fault cases, your reasoning must fall into a specific category that you must later prove you fit in.

California Is a No-Fault State

A no-fault state means that divorce will be granted in California if one spouse feels the marriage is damaged beyond repair. The other spouse does not have to agree with this. Since it is a no-fault situation, there is no proof necessary.  A spouse would be required to prove some form of fault to receive an approved divorce in the past. Common grounds that other states consider and were once considered in California included adultery, abandonment, criminal convictions, substance abuse, or sexual deviance. Proving these grounds was both costly and time-consuming, which is why the state decided to end this process in 1969.

First in Nation No-Fault Divorce Law

California initiated a Family Law Act that provided the first no-fault divorce law in the nation. Due to this change, neither spouse must testify to prove their reasons for divorce. This can often speed up the process and tends to help both parties heal and move on faster. No-fault also means a judge will not factor in any blame for the dissolution of the marriage when deciding support, custody, or property division issues. This tends to be the most common ground utilized when filing for divorce in California. It is relatively quick and doesn’t require any evidence to support your grounds for needing a separation.

Legal Incapacity aka Incurable Insanity

This reason for divorce can be much more complicated. Incurable insanity does not regard a person’s conduct throughout the marriage, which can often be a misinterpretation of these grounds for divorce. It instead refers to the spouse’s mental health condition and whether it calls for continued confinement and examination.

Steep Burden of Proof

You will have to show psychiatric testimony or documentation showing that your soon-to-be-ex was insane and expected to remain that way when you started divorce proceedings. A reliable medical expert must provide this proof. The expert will need to show that your spouse is incapacitated and is not expected to be able to make decisions in the near future. These decisions include the initial decision to get married, the expected contributions of being married, entering contracts, making medical decisions, and executing wills or trusts. There are a few categories of deficits in mental capacity, including:

  • Alertness and attention
  • Information processing—This can include the capacity of the person’s memory and ability to retain information. This could also impact the person’s ability to communicate.
  • Thought processes—This could include instances of delusions or hallucinations.
  • Ability to moderate mood and affect.

These grounds for divorce tend to take up more time due to required testimonies. Using this as grounds for divorce also costs more because you will have to provide testimony at different court proceedings. It is essential to discuss your best options with your attorney. For many, while they may feel that their divorce proceeding follows the lines of legal incapacity, they also understand that filing under irreconcilable differences can be a quicker and cheaper process.

Residency Requirement

When it comes to filing for a divorce in California, there are some residency requirements to consider. At least one of you must be a resident for six months or more before filing. One spouse must also be a legal resident in one county for three months or more before filing. These requirements were established to help avoid instances where a divorce-seeking spouse might “shop around” for a judge who might be more sympathetic to their specific circumstances.

If you and your spouse happen to live in different counties because you are legally separated or because of other circumstances, you may file in either county if the minimum time requirement is met. If you find yourself in a circumstance where you don’t meet the residency requirement, requesting a legal separation is an option. Unlike filing for divorce, you don’t have to meet any minimum residency to obtain a legal separation. Once you have obtained the proper residency requirement, you can petition to turn your separation into a full divorce.

What to Expect

If you pursue a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, there are a few different paths your divorce may ultimately take. Depending on your current ability to communicate with your separating spouse, the path of mediation may be the best course for you; it allows you to sit down with your separating partner and hash out the details of your divorce outside the courtroom. This is great for couples who don’t have many financial burdens, properties, or child custody to decide. This route tends to be the quickest and most affordable approach, but it also isn’t for everyone.

You Could Try for Collaborative Divorce

Another choice is a collaborative divorce. This is a circumstance where one team is working toward the goal of settling your divorce. This usually involves two experienced lawyers, two divorce coaches, and a financial specialist. As this process also takes place outside the courtroom, it can be less financially burdensome and time-consuming.

Or You Could Seek Summary Dissolution of Marriage

There is also the option of a summary dissolution. It is cheap and easy but does involve specific requirements. These requirements include less than five years of marriage with no mutual children involved. It required that there be less than $40,000 worth of separate or community property. There must also be less than $6,000 worth of debt accumulated during the marriage. There must also be no shared real estate, and a spouse can’t be seeking alimony. This path is quick and easy if the requirements are met.

Litigation Is the Last Path to Divorce

The final path is litigation. This is the circumstance where a judge will need to decide how to successfully end the marriage. This could be due to a failure to communicate or a spouse feeling that their needs and concerns aren’t being met. This can also be the best solution for couples tied up in different financial endeavors or who own a lot of property. This may also be necessary to determine child custody and support as well as any potential alimony.

If you pursue a divorce on the grounds of incurable insanity, you’ll need to proceed through the court system. These grounds require substantial proof. This circumstance also often involves a guardian or custodian of the spouse deemed legally incapacitated who represents the spouse. Due to the necessary proof required, a courtroom separation is needed.

Deciding to Proceed

If you are sure that divorce is the only path for you and your spouse, it is important to meet with an expert who can provide professional advice on which grounds may be best for you. While California is a no-fault state, making the process a little less complicated, it is still important to have someone on your side to guide you through the entire divorce process.

While the grounds may be granted quickly, there is still the work of separating property, determining custody or alimony, and much more. Contact the law offices of Patricia Rigdon for assistance. She has dedicated her career to family law and will do all she can to help resolve your conflict. Patricia is a strong supporter of helping her clients file outside of the courtroom. She believes in utilizing all tools available to make the proceedings quick and easy. If the case is brought to the courtroom, she will be a strong advocate for your needs and rights.