DIVORCE, SPOUSAL SUPPORT
In California, a divorce or “dissolution of marriage” legally ends a marriage. California allows no-fault divorces, meaning that the marriage may be ended because of “irreconcilable differences.” Divorces can be uncontested, in which cases the spouses agree as to all issues which need to be resolved, or contested, in which the parties disagree as to even one issue, such as property division, spousal support, or child support, custody, or visitation arrangements. For more information, please see our child custody/support page.
Legal separation is commonly used for religious reasons or because the spouses do not meet California’s residency requirements. A legal separation does not end a marriage, but instead allows spouses who want to live separately but do not want to divorce to divide property and debts, make child custody and visitation arrangements, and determine child and spousal support issues. If you are legally separated, you cannot marry someone else.
Annulment (Nullity of Marriage)
Although annulments are rare, a marriage may be annulled, or declared legally invalid, under certain circumstances, such as: fraud, force, physical or mental incapacity; because one of the spouses was too young to legally marry; or because one of the spouses was already married.
Community Property and Debts: California recognizes “community property,” meaning that all property and assets acquired and income earned during the marriage belong equally to both spouses. Community property commonly includes:
- Savings from earned income or wages;
- Family residences;
- Family businesses;
- Retirement plan accounts (e.g., 401k and 457 plans);
- Pension plan benefits; and
- Stocks and bonds.
Additionally, debts acquired during the marriage must also be divided between the divorcing spouses in the same manner as community property.
Separate Property: Separate property is property obtained before the marriage, or gained during the marriage by inheritance or gift. When a couple divorces, separate property (and related debts) will generally remain separate after the divorce.
A court may order one spouse to pay support to the other. This is called spousal support or alimony, and is usually awarded in the form of a monthly payment. Spousal support is not required by the law, and is intended to be of limited duration; the goal is for each spouse to eventually be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
A court may take many factors into consideration in determining whether and how much support to award. These include:
- The length of the marriage;
- The age and health of each spouse;
- The earning capacity of each spouse; and
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
Spousal support orders can also be modified or terminated if the circumstances of one of the spouses changes. If a spouse who is ordered to pay support falls behind on his or her payments, i.e., is in “arrears”, he or she may be subject to a wage assignment or garnishment, which includes any past due payments, plus interest.