Nullity Judgments and Other Divorce Alternatives in California

While the concept of divorce is familiar to all Californians, there are many options aside from the dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership, the processes most frequently used to terminate a couple's legal bonds. Divorce is available to all couples and resolves all related issues such as child custody, child support, visitation, property division and spousal support. The only necessary legal grounds are either irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity.

A nullity case, commonly known as an annulment of marriage, is distinct from a divorce in that it essentially erases rather than dissolves the marriage. A Judgment of Nullity can only be granted based on proof of one of eight specific grounds: incapacity, force, fraud, unsound mind, prior existing marriage (or domestic partnership), an underage spouse, bigamy or incest. Contrary to popular belief, it may be possible to get a judgment for spousal or child support, or division of property, in conjunction with a nullity determination.

Legal separation is another option for parting spouses that has one clear distinction from divorce: spouses who have obtained a legal separation cannot remarry. However, the same important issues - child support and custody, property division, etc. - can be resolved by a legal separation decree. In addition, spouses who seek a legal separation or annulment need not meet residency requirements. For example, a couple who seeks a divorce in Sacramento County must have lived in the county for three months and in California for at least six months. There is also no waiting period to obtain a judgment of legal separation.

Another lesser known procedure is the summary dissolution, which is the easiest way to dissolve a marriage or domestic partnership under California family law. But summary dissolution is only available to couples who:

  • Have no children together
  • Have been legally married or partnered for less than five years
  • Own no real estate, have less than $6,000 in total debt, have less than $38,000 in community property, and do not disagree about division of belongings and debts

Even couples who feel that a summary dissolution would best serve their interests are likely to benefit from a consultation with a California divorce lawyer. Options for partial legal representation exist, which allow a spouse to focus legal resources on a specific aspect of the dissolution, such as drafting of specific documents, seeking advice about a domestic violence allegation, and seeking or defending against a restraining order.