Types of Divorce in California: Find the Best Path For You

If you are considering a divorce, understanding your options and getting professional guidance can lead you to a simple, positive, and mutually beneficial solution. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to navigate this process and how we can help.

Under California divorce law, a marriage can be dissolved in multiple ways, each with unique features and considerations.

To help you make the best possible decision for both you and your spouse, let’s delve into the different options in California, from uncontested and contested divorce to summary dissolution, legal separation, and annulment of marriage, so that you can choose an approach that aligns with your unique circumstances.

Having insights into the various types of divorce, you will be more confident and better prepared to navigate a path toward a healthy divorce.

Key takeaways:

  • Under California law, options include divorce (contested and uncontested), summary dissolution, legal separation, and annulment of marriage.
  • Each of these has unique requirements, costs, and expected timeframes.
  • No matter which option you’re considering, there are significant benefits to completing it through mediation.

What type of divorce state is California?

California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning either spouse can dissolve the marriage at any time without having to prove any wrongdoing. And in that case, the divorce is typically filed based on irreconcilable differences.

Did you know…

  • According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 50% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Second and third marriages end at an even higher rate.

Ways to end a marriage in California

Each option is unique, and we will look at all of them in detail.

This is an image of crossroads at sunset.Divorce

A divorce can fall under one of two categories: uncontested or contested.

Uncontested divorce

Uncontested divorce is anchored in mutual agreements, and divorce lawyers don’t need to be involved. This means the divorce process is often smoother and more cost-effective.

In an uncontested divorce, spouses often agree on the following:

  • asset and debt division;
  • amount and duration of spousal support; and
  • co-parenting matters for spouses with minor children, such as:
    • types of child custody (legal custody, physical custody, sole vs. joint custody);
    • childcare;
    • legal decision-making;
    • childcare agreements;
    • child support payments; and
    • visitation.

California’s uncontested divorce process is generally more straightforward, less time-consuming, and less costly than the contested divorce process. Since they are more collaborative divorces, uncontested divorces in court take an average of eight months to complete.

When working with an Aurit Center Certified Mediator, the divorce mediation process takes an average of two to four months to complete. Plus, spouses who opt for mediation complete their entire divorce process without having to set foot in a courtroom.

Each state’s mandatory waiting period affects the time it takes for the divorce to be finalized by the court. California’s waiting period is six months.

Contested divorce

A contested divorce, on the other hand, occurs when spouses can’t reach an agreement on certain aspects of divorce. As a result, they might engage family law attorneys who will argue the case in court. Alternatively, they can work with a divorce mediator to help them reach agreements on their own without ever going to court.

It quickly becomes clear that mediation is the optimal choice in a wide spectrum of divorce scenarios, ranging from uncontested to highly contentious cases. It is reassuring to know that the effectiveness of mediation extends to the most challenging, high-conflict situations, where emotions and tensions are running high.

For all case types, it is common for divorcing spouses to access divorce coaching for strategic and emotional support as they navigate the divorce process.

This is an image of two children riding bicyclesSimplified divorce or summary dissolution

simplified divorce, also known as a summary dissolution, is a streamlined and expedited process for obtaining a straightforward, uncontested divorce. It’s aimed at spouses who meet specific eligibility criteria (see chart below).

Spouses seeking a simplified divorce in California may use divorce mediation to help them reach agreements on each divorce issue in an amicable and cost-effective manner.

Summary Dissolution: Quick Facts
  • No children
  • Short-term marriage (5 years or less)
  • Spousal combined debt is less than $6,000
  • The value of marital assets is less than $47,000
  • Separate property obtained before the marriage must be less than $47,000


In California, an annulment is a legal process to declare a marriage null and void — as if it never existed. It’s different from a divorce, which ends a legally valid marriage.

The Judicial Branch of California cites specific grounds for annulment, which include the following:

  • If the marriage is illegal in California, such as in the case of bigamy (where one spouse was already married to someone else at the time of the marriage) or incest (where the spouses are close blood relatives);
  • If one or both spouses married under the age of 18 without obtaining a judge’s permission to do so;
  • If one spouse deceived the other with the intention of inducing them to agree to marriage;
  • If, at the time of the marriage ceremony, one spouse lacked comprehension of the nature of the commitment they were entering into;
  • If a spouse is permanently physically incapable of engaging in sexual intercourse;
  • If, at the time of marriage, one of the spouses was still legally married to someone who was either 1) absent for at least five years or 2) was generally believed to be deceased, and it later turns out that they are indeed alive; or
  • If one spouse was compelled or coerced into the marriage.

Annulment often presents a challenging path due to its stringent criteria and the need to prove specific grounds.

This is an image of a person asking another person to sign legal documents.

Annulment of Marriage: Quick Facts
  • Illegal marriage (e.g., bigamy, incest)
  • Spouses married under the age of 18
  • Fraud or deception induced spouse to marry
  • Mental incapacity
  • Spouse is permanently unable to engage in sexual intercourse
  • Spouse was compelled or coerced into the marriage

Legal separation

In a legal separation, spouses address important issues such as spousal support, child custody for minor children, child visitation, and property division; however, they remain legally married. Legal separation can be a viable option for those who aren’t ready for a divorce but wish to live separately.

Spouses may opt to pursue legal separation for reasons around religious beliefs or financial considerations. For instance, they may choose to remain married to retain access to their spouse’s insurance or benefit plans.

When this process is litigated, the court intervenes to divide assets and liabilities while issuing directives concerning financial support. The spouses can also seek court orders related to child custody and financial assistance.

When a legal separation is mediated, it is a simple, positive, and healthy way for spouses to legally separate in California.

It’s important to note that in the event of a legal separation, the spouses aren’t legally permitted to marry other individuals or enter into new domestic partnerships.

To learn more about whether a legal separation would be the best option for you and your spouse, schedule a free 1-hour consultation with an Aurit Center Certified Mediator.

Mediation provides relief through divorce or legal separation

When conflicts arise, mediation offers a path to a more peaceful and harmonious separation process, reducing stress and minimizing conflict. It involves a third-party mediator facilitating communication and negotiation between the spouses. By doing so, they reach mutually agreeable solutions outside of court.

A mediator is a trained third-party professional who does not take sides. They guide the conversation, foster effective communication, and help the spouses explore and understand their options.

Mediation promotes cooperation and avoids the adversarial nature of divorce in court. It can help make the divorce process less emotionally taxing and lead to more amicable post-divorce relationships, which is especially beneficial where children are involved.

This is an image of a sign saying, "you got this."Filing for divorce in California

Here are the basic steps of a divorce process, according to the Judicial Branch of California:

Part 1: Starting a divorce case. A petition for divorce is filed with the appropriate county court. Your professional mediator will then help you and your spouse file a neutral petition, which will start your case while keeping stress and conflict low.
Part 2: Sharing financial information. Both spouses are required to disclose their financial information. This information is shared during mediation via your online Mediation Questionnaire.
Part 3: Making decisions. An ever-increasing number of divorce cases in California are resolved through mediation, helping spouses work together to reach agreements on crucial issues.
Part 4: Finalizing the divorce. Once all issues are resolved, the spouses will review and sign their agreements. The documents will be submitted to the court, and a judge will issue a divorce decree or judgment of dissolution, officially ending the marriage.

This is an image of a person typing on a laptop.Mediation is a simple, less stressful way of completing your divorce outside of court. A professional mediator will help you and your spouse reach all agreements. The Aurit Center’s goal is for you to be able to focus on what’s most important — your family!

Can a spouse refuse a divorce in California?

As a no-fault divorce state, a spouse cannot refuse a divorce in California. The spouse who doesn’t want the divorce can respond to the petition, but their response doesn’t stop the divorce from moving forward. Spouses who would prefer not to divorce often find the mediation process easier than going to court to fight against their spouse.

If a responding spouse, i.e., a respondent, fails to submit a response within 30 days of receiving the petition form, their spouse has the option to request a default judgment. In this event, the court will not permit the respondent to file a response and may make a decision, accepting the terms in the petition, without the respondent’s participation.

This is an image of a person holding someone's hands to support them.In mediation, the filed petition will not include a “list of demands” and the respondent will not be forced to respond with counter-proposals. All initial court filings are neutral and filed with the support of your Aurit Center Certified Mediator.

The path to a positive transition: divorce mediation

Understanding the various ways to end a marriage in California empowers you to make an informed decision and navigate the complexities with confidence, paving the way for a more positive transition into the next chapter of your life.

Remember, you aren’t alone on this journey, and seeking support and professional assistance can have a significant impact on the wellness of everyone involved.

While choosing the right approach to ending a marriage depends on the specific circumstances and priorities of the individuals involved, mediation is the efficient, cost-effective, low-conflict approach.

With the guidance of an Aurit Center Certified Mediator, you can embark on a simple and respectful mediation process, crafting a tailor-made agreement for each divorce issue. Let us help you pave the way for a healthy divorce where your unique needs are placed at the forefront of each conversation.

Contact us today to schedule a free one-hour consultation.

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