California family law provides several avenues for couples to end their relationship. They may choose a traditional divorce proceeding. Couples may also choose to file for summary dissolution or legal separation.

The main difference between the three avenues is that a summary dissolution and a divorce end a marriage. However, a legal separation does not end the marriage. Each option has pros and cons that a couple should consider before proceeding to family court.

What is a Summary Dissolution?

A summary dissolution is a streamlined divorce proceeding. In short, there is not as much paperwork required to end the marriage. In some cases, the spouses may not even need to appear for court proceedings. 

Couples must meet the following requirements for a summary dissolution:

  • They have been married for five years or less
  • Neither spouse owns any real estate, including a residence
  • The couple does not have any children together and is not expecting any children
  • Their combined debt does not exceed $6,000, excluding car loans
  • The value of all community property does not exceed $40,000, excluding motor vehicles
  • Each party waives spousal support
  • A written agreement exists for the division of assets and debts

Both spouses must agree to the summary dissolution. If so, the couple can save time and money by seeking this avenue to end their marriage. 

When the judge enters the final order, the parties are legally divorced. The parties can remarry in the future.

What is a Divorce?

A divorce is a legal term used to describe the dissolution of a marriage. The divorce proceeding legally dissolves or ends the marriage. The parties are free to remarry if they choose to do so. 

The divorce proceeding is longer and involves more steps than a summary dissolution. The process is designed for couples who own substantial assets, have children together, or wish to seek spousal support.

Divorces may be uncontested or contested. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree to all terms of the divorce, including property division, child support, child custody, and spousal support. They may present a proposed agreement to the court for the judge’s consideration.

Contested divorces are litigated. One or both spouses dispute some or all of the terms of the divorce. Contested divorces can be lengthy and expensive; the parties may fight over child custody, time-sharing, community property, and spousal support issues.

California is a no-fault state for divorces. That means a spouse does not have to prove “fault” for the breakup of the marriage. However, some states require a spouse to prove domestic violence, adultery, or other grounds for divorce.

Therefore, a spouse can obtain a divorce even though the other spouse wants to remain married. California divorce laws do not require a spouse to stay in a marriage if they want to end the relationship. 

A legal separation does not end the marriage. The spouses remain legally married. However, all other issues that would be resolved in a divorce proceeding are resolved in the legal separation. 

The legal separation allows the couple to live separately as if they were divorced. The only restriction is that the spouses cannot legally remarry unless they obtain a divorce.

Reasons a couple may choose to file for legal separation instead of a summary dissolution or divorce include:

  • They wish to make independent decisions about their lifestyle, finances, and property
  • The parties may have religious beliefs the prohibit divorce
  • A couple may want to retain some of the rights of married couples, including filing joint tax returns, inheritance rights, and health insurance benefits
  • The parties may want to try a trial separation before obtaining a divorce
  • Spouses may want to work on their marriage and attend counseling 
  • The parties wish to stay married until their children are adults
  • The spouses remain married to protect marital assets
  • The couple wishes to remain married to be entitled to Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, disability benefits, or retirement benefits
  • The parties have social or cultural reasons for remaining married

There could be other reasons why a couple might file for a legal separation instead of a divorce. 

How Do I Decide What is Best for Me?

If you want to leave your spouse, it can help to discuss your situation with a San Diego divorce attorney. The steps you take before you leave your spouse can significantly impact the outcome of your case. 

An attorney can help you identify what is in your best interest and the best interest of your children. A divorce lawyer explains your legal rights and your options for ending the relationship.

For more information, call our law firm at (619) 866-3756 or reach out to us via email by visiting our contact us page.