What Are the Divorce Laws in California?

Navigating the legal system can be complicated, and the laws surrounding divorce are no exception. Divorce often constitutes one of the most challenging periods in life, and trying to understand the nuances of divorce laws related to your specific situation can make circumstances appear even more overwhelming.

Each state has its own unique set of laws regarding divorce and California presents a number of legal codes that are different from other states. If you live in California, some aspects of divorce law might seem like common knowledge. However, in reality, there is a good chance there are important details about divorce laws that have been missed, and there will be other laws you may not be aware of.

If you are facing a divorce, it is important to find an experienced divorce and family law attorney to help you understand what to expect and how to achieve the best outcome during your experience working through your divorce in the legal system.

In this article, we will review five aspects of divorce and family law in California that are less well-known.

family divorce attorney

California has some unique divorce laws to understand

1 – Community Property & Property Division Attorneys

California has certain laws regarding shared property that are important to be familiar with to help set expectations. California is considered a community property state: In California, all assets as well as debts acquired during marriage are generally considered community property and will be subject to equal division upon divorce, regardless of who acquired them. 

What you own and what you owe will be divided, including debt. Additionally, this could include assets such as pension plans if they were contributed to while married. This means that even if one spouse earned significantly more income enabling the acquisition of more assets, those assets would be divided equally between spouses upon divorce.

There are other types of property as well, such as separate property. Separate property can include assets that were owned by either spouse prior to the marriage, and may not be subject to being split during a divorce. Sometimes determining what property is subject to being split and what property is not can be complicated. Consider these checklist points when hiring a family law divorce attorney can assist you in figuring out what assets likely need to be split during a divorce.


2 – The Divorce Waiting Period

Regardless of how quickly agreements can be made between spouses in a divorce, you cannot be legally divorced immediately. California requires a waiting period: The law mandates a six-month waiting period from the time of filing for divorce until the divorce can be finalized. This means that even if both spouses agree to the terms of the divorce and sign all necessary paperwork, they cannot be legally divorced until six months have passed.

Additionally, for the divorce to be finalized, certain steps need to have been completed. These steps include: Sharing your financial information with your spouse, coming to an agreement about how property will be split and finances will be dealt with, and how any children will be cared for and supported. Last, the final paperwork must be submitted to the court.


3 – What Is Spousal Support?

California law allows for spousal support (also known as alimony) to be awarded to the lesser-earning spouse following a divorce. The intended purpose of spousal support is to help the spouse who was lower-earning maintain a similar living standard as they had during the marriage. 

The amount and duration of spousal support are determined based on factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s income and earning potential, and the individual needs of each spouse.

But the questions remain:

  • How long does spousal support last?
  • And how to avoid paying spousal support at all?

Additionally, considerations such as a spouse’s marketable skills, the job market for related skills, the time needed for potential retraining to obtain marketable skills, and a number of other factors influence spousal support outcomes in court.


4 – What Is a “No-Fault” Divorce State?

California law allows for “no-fault” divorce, which means that a couple can get divorced without having to prove that one spouse was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, the couple only needs to state that there are irreconcilable differences that have led to the irreparable breakdown of the marriage. 

This also means that no one is required to prove that someone did something wrong, and a divorce can be initiated even if only one party wants a divorce. A spouse can get a divorce by initiating a court case.

Additionally, there are living requirements to file for divorce in the state of California. Either you or the other party is required to have lived in California for the last six months and in your current California county for the last three months.


5 – Child Custody

Both parents are generally considered to have equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to custody and visitation of their children. However, the court’s main concern in determining custody and visitation is the best interests of the child. 

Child custody is broken down into two components:

  • Legal custody (first component). This determines who carries the right to make important decisions for the children, such as decisions about welfare, healthcare, and education. Other types of important decisions related to legal custody can include:
  • Childcare and school
  • Activities related to religion
  • Psychological, psychiatric, and other needs related to mental health care
  • Dental care, use of doctors, and other needs regarding medical care (with the exception of emergency situations) 
  • Summer camp, vacation, and other extracurricular pursuits
  • Travel activities
  • Physical custody (second component). This type of custody determines which spouse children will be able to live with most of the time.

Additionally, legal and physical custody can be categorized as either shared (joint) or one-parent (sole) custody.

Factors the court may consider include the child’s age, health, and safety, the parent’s ability to care for the child, and the child’s relationship with each parent. The court may determine a parenting plan, which contains orders about child custody. A parenting plan can include rules outlining parenting time (visitation). 

The parenting plan can also include requirements on how the child will be cared for, where they will live, and when each parent will see the child. Importantly, until a court order is delivered, both parents maintain equal rights regarding their children.


Divorce Laws in California

“Gaining even a general understanding of aspects of California divorce laws will be important to help clarify expectations surrounding the divorce process,” says Leon F. Bennett, a Woodland Hills divorce attorney.

The determination of community versus separate property will shape much of the financial impact on each party resulting from the divorce. Additionally, the “no-fault” nature of California divorce law means that attempting to establish fault for the failure of a marriage does not necessarily impact how the divorce will be handled in court and that no “fault” or guilty party needs to be established for the divorce process to proceed.

Moreover, determinations related to child custody can be a critical component of the divorce for spouses that had children, and there are many factors that help shape how custody issues will be handled. This article provides a brief outline of certain aspects of divorce laws in California. But there is much more nuance to the divorce process than is reflected here, which affects the outcomes of the divorce process. 

Additionally, it may be worth considering divorce mediation in Los Angeles. Divorce mediation is an alternative process for coming to legal agreements surrounding divorce, which does not require mediation in court and may be a more desirable alternative to conventional divorce litigation for some couples.

In such delicate cases, it’s always advised to consult with a California based family divorce lawyer who has experience in dealing with the specific matters associated with divorce in the golden state.

Leon F. Bennett has more than 30 years of experience helping settle divorce cases amicably and with the most positive outcome for both parties involved. Contact his Woodland Hills based family law offices to see what procedures are right for you and your family.