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What Are the Grounds for Divorce in California?

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In legal terms, “grounds” indicates a rational reason to take action. In this respect, “grounds” is a synonym for the word “basis.” The legal term gets more specific when we talk about “grounds for divorce.” In that instance, we’re using the word “grounds” to mean the rules and regulations.

Legal rules vary from state to state, and within a state, rules can vary from county to county. Some states still demand evidence of misbehavior to grant a divorce. Others may ask you to explain to the court why you want a divorce, even if those reasons aren’t for a direct marriage violation. When it comes to granting a divorce, California is a no-fault state.

No-Fault Divorce

California is a no-fault divorce state, one of only 17 in the U.S. In simpler language, these states acknowledge that a divorce may not directly be anyone’s fault. It may just be that two people are no longer getting along. Maybe they were the best of friends at first and have since grown apart, or perhaps they didn’t really know each other that well to begin with. Whatever the case, a marriage that isn’t working can be ended by citing “irreconcilable differences,” which is the legal way of saying that a marriage just can’t be fixed.

There are many advantages to no-fault divorces. Imagine a marriage where you’ve grown apart, and you simply aren’t happy. You’d like to end things, but you’re in a state where you need “proof of fault” to end the marriage. This could force you to exaggerate or invent charges just for the divorce to go through. You probably still want to protect your spouse’s reputation, especially if no one did anything inherently “wrong” in the marriage. It’s unusual and unlikely, but a fault-based divorce could also, theoretically, be denied. If your spouse can prove that your charges were false, a judge could force you to stay married. A no fault divorce protects everyone’s reputation and ensures that the divorce will go through.

Another strong advantage to a no-fault divorce is the option of filing for an “uncontested divorce.” In this scenario, both parties can agree to the divorce and all its conclusions beforehand. They can decide for themselves how to divide property, for example. This process takes far less time, and it requires far less paperwork. You simply file the forms; the court approves them; and you’re done. Saving time also means saving money, as you won’t be paying for a lawyer to build and argue a case. Also, the already emotional experience of a divorce won’t be as intense. You will be saved the added strife of fighting in court.

Other Ways to End a Marriage in California

Legal Separation

While not technically ending the marriage, separation acknowledges that a couple wants to live apart and lead separate lives. Much like a divorce, assets can be redistributed, and child support/custody issues can be determined by a court.

The process is much like a divorce. One party files for the separation, and the other is notified (assuming that the couple didn’t make this decision together). From there, mutual conclusions can be reached as in an uncontested divorce, or the couple can take the matter to court for judges to make decisions.

A couple may want to remain legally married for any number of reasons. Financial benefits are an advantage to staying married. Different benefits and types of insurance can continue when people are legally joined. There are emotional benefits, as well. Maybe the couple wants a “trial run” divorce to see if they’re happier apart. There may also be cultural or religious reasons why someone wants to stay in the marriage.


Unlike divorce, annulment in California requires that you prove a very specific set of circumstances. Legally, an annulment is recognized differently from a divorce. A divorce is the ending of a marriage. An annulment is the invalidating of a marriage. Essentially, when the court grants an annulment, it is saying that the state no longer recognizes the marriage, which is different from saying that it recognizes a marriage that concluded.

Grounds for an annulment in California:

  • One party was already married.
  • One party was having a mental health crisis when they got married. Now that they have regained their faculties, they want out of the marriage.
  • One party was incapable of agreeing to the marriage. For example, one of the spouses was comatose when the marriage was finalized.
  • One party wasn’t able to physically enter the marriage. This standard serves as a “catch all” for a marriage in which one party wasn’t present.
  • One party was forced into a marriage. This could be through any means, such as physical threat, fraud (meaning the other party may have tricked them into the marriage somehow), blackmail, etc. For this accusation to work, the accuser must show that they weren’t living with the other partner of their own free will.

California requires that annulment grounds be argued in court, and it gives partners a lot of time to make these accusations.

You have at least four years to annul a marriage if:

  • You were forced into it
  • You, for whatever reason, were incapable of consenting to the marriage
  • One of the spouses is found to be underage (in the case of a minor, their parents can file any time before the minor reaches legal age)

Some of the grounds for annulment have no time limit at all. You can annul a marriage at any time if you discover your spouse is already married. The same is true for the claim that you were not in your right mind for the duration of the marriage.

If you need legal help to end or separate a marriage, please call (310) 817-6904 or contact us online today. We are here to listen and help you plan for the future.


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