Getting the Facts

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Grounds for Dissolution of Marriage

Q:        What are the grounds for dissolution of marriage?

A:        In California you may dissolve your marriage on the basis of irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity-no other reason is required. In 1970, with the passage of the Family Law Act by the State Legislature, California became a “no fault” state for dissolution of marriage purposes. The Act abolished the grounds of cruelty, adultery, desertion, and the like, as a basis for dissolution of marriage. Fault is no longer a basis for dissolving your marriage.

Before you can file for dissolution of marriage, you or your spouse must live in California for six months and in the county where you file for three months. Six months after serving your spouse with a Summons, you may acquire a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. You will not receive a Judgment automatically, as your attorney must request it from the court. When the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage has been entered in the court records, you will be returned to the legal status of an unmarried person on the date designated in the Judgment. Only then can you remarry.

Community Property

Q:        What is community property? How is it different from separate property?

A:        California  is a community property state. Under our system of law, a marriage is generally viewed as a partnership where both husband and wife have equal ownership of all assets acquired during the marriage between the date of marriage and the date of separation. Typical assets include a home, furniture, automobiles, business interests, investments, retirement benefits, bank accounts, and the like. Likewise, obligations incurred during the marriage are community debts and husband and wife are equally responsible for their repayment.

Separate property is that which is owned entirely by one spouse. Separate property is property acquired before marriage (which is still in the possession of either husband or wife), and property acquired during the marriage by way of gift or inheritance. Community property may become separate property by an agreement in writing between husband and wife.

Property Division

Q:        How will our property be divided? Must we go to trial?

A:        When a married couple separates and decides to dissolve their marriage, it is the duty of the court to determine the value of the community property and divide it equally. Also, the court will determine the balance due on community obligations and provide that husband and wife share that debt equally. The court will determine if there is any separate property and, if so, confirm its ownership to the acquiring spouse.

The court has considerable discretion in determining how to divide community property in order to assure that a fair result is reached. It is not necessary that each asset be divided precisely, which is something rarely possible. What is required is substantial mathematical equality. The court may divide the property in several ways, including the following:

  1. Awarding one-half to each spouse as in the case of money, stocks or bonds (in-kind).
  2. Awarding one spouse a certain item or group of items and the other spouse a certain item or group of items of equal value.
  3. Ordering the property sold and the proceeds divided.
  4. Awarding each spouse a one-half undivided interest.
  5. Awarding an asset to one spouse and an equalizing payment to the other.

Nothing prevents you and your spouse from entering into an agreement to divide your property. Settlement agreements are favored by the court and your agreement will be approved if it is fair and reasonable and appropriate legal documents, including disclosure statements, have been exchanged.

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