General Matters

Domestic Relations Actions must be commenced to legally terminate marriage and registered domestic partnerships, and to obtain orders and judgments on related matters which include support, property, and children. Such actions are governed by California law.

The State Legislature has established a Family Code which governs marriage, domestic partnership registry, dissolution, legal separation, annulment, and the division of the community estate, support, custody, visitation, and other issues which relate to the status of marriages and domestic partnerships. Your marital or domestic partnership action is governed by the provisions of the Family Code presently in effect. This primer seeks to give you a general overview of how the Family Code is likely to impact your matter, and how it governs the legal services we provide to you.

There are two primary types of Actions; namely, Dissolution and Legal Separation. Dissolution is the legal termination of a marriage or domestic partnership, while Legal Separation preserves the domestic partnership or marriage yet divides the community estate and provides other relief similar to that available in a dissolution proceeding. This document predominantly focuses on actions for Dissolution and Legal Separation, which are governed largely by the same statutory provisions.

The other marital actions recognized in California are those for Putative Spouse and for Annulment. These proceedings are commenced less frequently than those for dissolution or legal separation. If you are interested in either of these actions, kindly let us know and we will provide you with more specific information.

  • The Family Code provides specific grounds for Dissolution of a marriage or a registered domestic partnership; namely, Irreconcilable Differences and Incurable Insanity.
    • California has eliminated fault as a grounds for dissolution.
  • In addition to the dissolving of a domestic union, couples in California who are married or in a registered domestic partnership may obtain a Legal Separation, the grounds for which are the same as those for dissolution.
    • A legal separation results in marriage or domestic partnership in name only. The court divides the community estate, and may enter orders regarding support, children, and property, but once the legal separation is final there is no further accumulation of community property. This means that the earnings or accumulations of each party after the judgment of legal separation are legally the separate property of each party. Those couples who obtain a judgment of legal separation cannot remarry or enter into another domestic partnership because they remain married or domestically partnered in the eyes of the law and may thus continue to reap the benefits of an intact marriage (state and federal) or domestic partnership (state only).
    • A legal separation may be beneficial for couples who choose not to dissolve their marriage or domestic partnership for religious, moral, health insurance, tax, or other reasons but who no longer desire to live together in an intact relationship. A legal separation may also be desirous for couples who intend to seek dissolution through the California courts, but who do not yet satisfy the state’s residency requirements.

Parties seeking dissolution have the option of bifurcating their marital or domestic partnership proceeding. There are two types of bifurcation recognized in California; namely, “status only” and “Single Issue.”

  • A status only bifurcation allows parties to bifurcate their marital proceeding by severing the judicial dissolution from the other matters involved in a domestic relations action, such that the issue of marital or domestic partner status is severed from all other issues and the parties obtain a “status only” dissolution.
    • A status only action may be desirable, as certain aspects of a dissolution, including the division and valuation of property and issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support can take a rather long time to resolve, whether through negotiation and agreement or through litigation.
    • After the status only dissolution is granted, parties are no longer in a legal union. If desired, the parties can even remarry or enter into another domestic partnership. Because parties can in many ways move on with their lives, this type of action helps some couples resolve their more complex financial and custody issues in a less costly, more amicable matter. However, notwithstanding the fact that the parties enjoy the “status” of having their domestic partnership or marriage legally dissolved, the parties are not entirely separate. Their community estate and issues of support, custody, and visitation must still be resolved.