Basics

There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage, and the other spouse/partner, even if he or she does not want to get a divorce, cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through. 

California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong.  To get a no fault divorce, 1 spouse or domestic partner has to state that the couple cannot get along. Legally, this is called “irreconcilable differences.”

After you decide how you want to end your marriage or domestic partnership, you need to plan your case ahead of time. Think about how you are going to handle your case. Planning before you start and talking to a lawyer can save you time and money as you go through the court process. And keep in mind that, normally, it does not matter who is the first to file the divorce or separation case. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file or a disadvantage to the person who responds to the case.

If you want to end a registered domestic partnership, domestic partners must also file for dissolution (divorce), legal separation, or annulment to end their relationship.  There is a limited exception where domestic partners can end their relationship in a summary process through the Secretary of State if they have been registered for less than five years and they have no children, no real property, very few assets or debts, and a written agreement on dividing their property, in addition to other restrictions. Click to learn more about this shorter process to see if you are eligible to end your domestic partnership that way.

Federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships for most purposes, such as Medicare, immigration law, veterans' benefits, and federal tax laws. Domestic partners may be recognized for some federal purposes, such as Social Security. In addition, domestic partners may not have the same rights if they leave California because other states may not recognize domestic partnerships.  Talk to a lawyer if you are ending a domestic partnership and any of these issues may apply to you. You may also want to talk to an accountant who is knowledgeable about these issues. Click for help finding a lawyer.

The family law facilitator or self-help center in your court may be able to help you with the divorce or legal separation process and help you understand what your options are, decide what you want to do, and get started with your paperwork. You can also talk to a lawyer to get legal advice.

IMPORTANT! If you are worried about how a divorce or legal separation will affect your immigration status, talk to an immigration lawyer or a family law lawyer with a lot of experience with immigration issues. Immigration law can be very complicated, especially as it relates to divorce. Click for help finding a lawyer.

If there is domestic violence in your relationship, make sure you are safe and protected while you go through this court process. Read the domestic violence section of this website for more information.  Or call 1-800-799-7233 (TDD: 1-800-787-3224) to find a domestic violence agency in your county.

If you or your spouse or domestic partner are currently in the military, special rules apply under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Talk to your family law facilitator, self-help center, or a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.
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