These infographics illustrate the ways in which a marriage is terminated and the sequence of procedural events.
Ending a marriage with a Judgment of Legal Separation is used by parties who do not wish to be divorced for religious or other personal reasons. A Judgment of Legal Separation is a marital status. With this status a party:
- is not married
- is not single
- cannot file a joint tax return
- is not liable for debts of the other party
- cannot accumulate community property
Being “separated” is different than having a Judgment of Legal Separation. Being “separated” is not a marital status. To be “separated” at least one party must have formed the intent to end the relationship and have communicated that intent to the other party with words or actions. See Date of Separation Infographic.
A marriage may be terminated with an annulment. If an annulment is granted, the marriage never existed and by law the parties were never married to each other. The grounds for an annulment are fraud (going to the essence of the marriage), bigamy, under-age, unsound mind, force, physical incapacity and incest.
If a marriage is annulled there still may be a basis for an award of half of the assets that were accumulated during the “marital” period which may be characterized as “quasi-marital property.” An award of spousal support may be granted to a spouse, if the party had a good faith belief that he/she was legally married. Such a person would be declared a “putative spouse.” A putative spouse may be entitled to the same rights he/she would have received had the marriage been valid in all respects.
If a person did not have a good faith belief that he/she was legally married, the person would be declared a “meretricious spouse” and no rights would accrue relative to the invalid marriage. However, such a spouse could potentially have rights under non-marital contract theories.
Property rights, support rights and obligations are predicated on the existence of a valid marriage or registered domestic partnership. The California Family Code, does not apply to a nonmarital relationship. California does not recognize "common law" marriages.
Non-marital issues are not adjudicated in a Family Court. Unmarried cohabitants must avail themselves to traditional (non-family law) legal and equitable remedies to enforce any rights arising out of a nonmarital relationship.
The California Family Law Code allows a party to terminate a marriage before all of the property and support issues are resolved. This procedure maybe utilized when a case appears to be consuming an unduly long period of time and a party wishes to be divorced. Generally, a request to bifurcate is granted by the divorce court but conditions are imposed. This procedure is referred to as a status only-bifurcation.
Bifurcation may also refer to trying one issue (e.g. date of separation) before the other issues in the divorce are tried. Either type of bifurcation may occur by agreement of the parties through a stipulation or by way of a formal request to the family law court.
A bifurcation itself may occur at any point in the divorce but the dissolving of the marriage itself cannot occur before six months after the service of the Petition on the other party.
A party may wish to seek a status only-bifurcation and dissolve the marriage for a variety of reasons including:
- Being able to file tax returns as a single or head of household tax payer;
- Purchase real property without the consent of the other party; or
- Being able to remarry.
Before a bifurcation is granted, the divorce court requires certain financial disclosures to be made. Before a bifurcation is granted, the family law court imposes a number of conditions on the party seeking the status-only bifurcation per Family Code section 2337. Generally, the two most significant conditions relate to protecting the other party from any loss of retirement benefits in the event of the death of the party seeking the status-only bifurcation and requiring the party seeking the bifurcation to pay the other party’s health insurance premiums until the divorce Judgment is filed on the remaining issues in the case.