Divorce Law: Grounds for Divorce in California

Divorce Law: Grounds for Divorce in California

Grounds for Divorce Description
Irreconcilable differences A marriage has broken down to the point where reconciliation is not possible.
Permanent legal incapacity to make decisions One spouse is unable to make important life decisions due to a mental illness or disability.
Adultery One spouse has had a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse.
Extreme cruelty One spouse has physically or emotionally abused the other spouse.
Willful desertion One spouse has abandoned the other spouse for at least one year without any intention of returning.
Separation The couple has lived separately for at least one year and reconciliation is not likely.

Overview of Divorce Law in California

California is a no-fault divorce state which means that neither party needs to prove fault or wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce. Instead, irreconcilable differences are generally sufficient grounds for divorce. However, there are other grounds on which parties may seek a dissolution of marriage:

  • Incurable insanity
  • Abandonment
  • Adultery
  • Cruelty
  • Imprisonment
  • Fraudulent contract

It’s important to note that while some states require couples to live separately before seeking a divorce, California does not have such requirements. Additionally, if both parties agree on all terms of their separation agreement and property division plan before filing for divorce or legal separation then they can use an uncontested simplified procedure known as summary dissolution.

Definition of Divorce

If there are children involved, issues such as custody, visitation rights, child support and health insurance coverage will also need to be addressed. Additionally, property division may need to be negotiated or litigated if both parties cannot agree on how their assets and debts should be divided.

Types of Divorce

Couples should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can explain each option in detail and help them choose the best path forward based on their unique circumstances.

Importance of Grounds for Divorce

An experienced family law attorney can help parties navigate these issues and determine what approach will work best for them given their particular circumstances.

No-Fault Divorce in California

As previously mentioned, California is a no-fault divorce state. This means that neither party needs to prove any wrongdoing or provide a specific reason for the dissolution of marriage. Instead, irreconcilable differences are generally sufficient grounds.

No-fault divorce laws were first introduced in the United States in the 1970s and have since been adopted by most states. Prior to this, couples had to prove fault such as adultery or cruelty in order to obtain a divorce.

The introduction of no-fault divorce has made it easier and more efficient for couples to end their marriages without having to go through lengthy and expensive legal battles over who was at fault. It has also helped reduce the stigma associated with divorce, making it more socially acceptable for people to choose this option if their marriage is not working out.

Explanation of No-Fault Divorce

The concept of no-fault divorce means that neither spouse needs to prove that the other person did something wrong or caused the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, they only need to claim “irreconcilable differences” as their reason for seeking a divorce. This typically involves stating that there are problems in the relationship that cannot be resolved and have led to an irreparable breakdown of the marriage.

Some advantages of no-fault divorce include:

  • Fewer court hearings
  • Less time-consuming
  • Much less stressful than contested divorces
  • Avoiding litigation costs associated with proving fault grounds such as adultery or cruelty

Requirements for No-Fault Divorce

If both parties agree on all terms of their separation agreement and property division plan before filing for divorce or legal separation then they can use an uncontested simplified procedure known as summary dissolution. In order to qualify for this option, the following requirements must be met:

  • The couple has been married less than five years
  • No children were born during the marriage

Benefits and Drawbacks of No-Fault Divorce

However, there are also drawbacks to this type of divorce:

  • No-fault divorces may result in unequal division of property and assets because neither party has to prove fault for any misdeeds that contributed to the breakdown of their marriage
  • The lack of accountability for misconduct may be frustrating or unsatisfying for some spouses who feel they were wronged during the marriage
  • No-fault divorces can lead to more frequent separations since either spouse can request a separation without giving any reason at all

Fault Divorce in California

While California is a no-fault divorce state, there are still some circumstances where fault may come into play during the divorce process.

  • If one spouse can prove that the other committed domestic violence within five years prior to filing for divorce, this could impact issues such as custody and visitation rights.
  • In cases of adultery or financial wrongdoing (such as hiding assets), the court may consider these factors when dividing property and awarding spousal support.

Explanation of Fault Divorce

Fault divorces are becoming increasingly rare in California. However, if a spouse wishes to file for divorce based on fault grounds, they must prove that their partner is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Some reasons that might constitute a fault-based divorce include adultery, abandonment, cruelty, and incurable insanity.

It’s important to note that proving fault can be challenging and costly. In most cases, it’s easier and more efficient to file for a no-fault divorce where neither party has to prove wrongdoing or misconduct.

Grounds for Fault Divorce in California

If you believe that your spouse has engaged in any of these behaviors, it’s important to speak with an attorney who can advise you on whether seeking a fault-based divorce is appropriate in your case.


When it comes to proving adultery in court, evidence such as text messages, emails, photographs or eyewitness testimony may be used to establish that an extramarital affair has occurred. However, it’s important to note that even if adultery can be proven in court, it typically does not have a significant impact on the division of assets or child custody arrangements unless the adulterous behavior had a direct impact on these issues.


Desertion is one of the grounds for divorce in California. It occurs when one spouse abandons the other without consent or justification and with an intent to end the marriage relationship. There are two types of desertion:

  • Actual Desertion: This occurs when one spouse leaves home and remains absent for at least one year without any intention of returning.
  • Constructive Desertion: This occurs when a spouse refuses to engage in sexual relations, provide financial support or fulfill other marital obligations which results in the other spouse leaving home due to intolerable living conditions.

In order to prove desertion as grounds for divorce, it must be shown that there was no reasonable cause or provocation by the innocent party which led to the abandonment. Additionally, if both parties reconciled but subsequently separated again due to desertion within five years then this could constitute continuous desertion under California law.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a serious issue that can impact divorce proceedings. If one spouse has been physically, emotionally or mentally abusive towards the other spouse or any children involved in the marriage, it’s important to speak with an attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases.

  • In California, victims of domestic violence may be able to obtain restraining orders against their abuser.
  • A restraining order can prohibit contact between the victim and their abuser and can also require the abuser to move out of their shared home.
  • If there is evidence of abuse during divorce proceedings, it could impact child custody arrangements as well as property division decisions made by a judge.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can be a factor in divorce cases, especially when it affects the welfare of children or leads to financial problems. California law recognizes substance abuse as a form of domestic violence and may issue restraining orders that prohibit an abusive spouse from contact with their partner and children.

If you suspect that your spouse is abusing drugs or alcohol, there are several steps you can take:

  • Document any evidence of substance abuse such as police reports, medical records or witness statements
  • Consult with an experienced family law attorney who can advise you on your rights and options
  • If necessary, seek help for yourself and your children through counseling services or support groups

Fraud and Deceit

If you believe your spouse has committed fraud during the divorce process, it’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. An experienced family law attorney can help you gather evidence and build a strong case so that you can achieve the best possible outcome in your divorce proceedings.

Mental Incapacity

It’s important to note that proving mental incapacity can be difficult and complex. Evidence such as medical records, expert testimony and witness statements may be required to support a claim of mental incapacity. Additionally, if the other party contests the claim then it may require litigation in court.

If you believe that your spouse may suffer from a severe and incurable mental illness or disorder which affects their decision-making ability regarding your marriage, it’s important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help evaluate your case and advise you on your legal options.

Burden of Proof in Fault Divorce

In some states, couples may seek a fault-based divorce, where one party must prove that the other party was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. However, in California, it is generally not necessary to prove fault or wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce.

That being said, there are certain situations where evidence of fault or misconduct may be relevant and impact issues such as property division or spousal support. For example:

  • If one spouse committed adultery and used marital funds to finance the affair
  • If one spouse engaged in domestic violence against the other
  • If one spouse has a history of substance abuse that impacted their ability to provide financially for the family

An experienced family law attorney can help clients navigate these complex legal issues and ensure that their rights are protected throughout the divorce process.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fault Divorce


  • Filing for fault divorce can provide leverage in negotiations over property division or spousal support
  • A spouse may feel vindicated if the other party’s wrongdoing is exposed in court
  • Fault divorces can be completed more quickly than no-fault divorces because there is less need to negotiate agreements on issues like property division or child custody


  • In order to file for a fault-based divorce, one must provide evidence of wrongdoing which could include testifying against one’s spouse in court
  • The process can become much more adversarial when parties accuse each other of wrongdoing, leading to higher costs and longer proceedings
  • Couples who cannot agree on the grounds for the divorce will likely face a contested litigation process which can be emotionally draining and expensive.

Contested Divorce in California

A contested divorce in California occurs when one or both spouses cannot agree on the terms of their separation. This can include disputes over child custody, visitation rights, spousal support, and property division. In a contested divorce, each party will typically hire an attorney to represent them and fight for their interests.

The process of a contested divorce can be lengthy and expensive as it often involves hearings, depositions, and possibly even a trial. The court may also require mediation or arbitration before proceeding with a trial in order to try and resolve any issues outside of court.

  • Contested divorces tend to be more emotionally charged than uncontested ones since parties are not able to reach an agreement easily.
  • As such they tend to take longer to resolve since couples need time to work through their issues
  • While this type of divorce can be difficult for both parties involved (and children if there are any), sometimes litigation is necessary if one spouse refuses to negotiate in good faith or the couple simply cannot reach an agreement on their own.

Definition of Contested Divorce

The process of a contested divorce can be lengthy and stressful for all involved parties. It typically involves several steps:

  1. Filing a petition – One spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court
  2. Response – The other spouse responds to the petition within 30 days after being served with it
  3. Discovery – Both parties exchange financial information in order to determine how assets should be divided
  4. Negotiation – Parties negotiate with each other or through mediation in order to reach an agreement on property division, custody arrangements and support payments
  5. Trial – If negotiations fail then trial is held where both spouses present their case before judge who makes final decision.

If you are considering filing for divorce in California or your spouse has already filed against you, it’s important that you seek legal counsel from an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure your rights are protected.

Reasons for Contested Divorce

In these cases, it’s important for each party to retain their own attorney who can provide legal guidance throughout the process. Couples may also choose mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method before proceeding with litigation.

Process of Contested Divorce

The length of time that it takes to complete a contested divorce will depend on several factors including the complexity of the case and how quickly both parties are able to come to agreements. It is important for individuals going through this process to work closely with their attorneys throughout each step in order to ensure they understand their options and rights.

Role of Attorneys in Contested Divorce

  • Reviewing all relevant documents and information related to the case
  • Gathering evidence to support their client’s position on various issues such as child custody, property division or spousal support
  • Negotiating with the other party’s attorney to try and reach a settlement outside of court
  • Representing their client at any necessary court hearings or trials
  • Filing legal motions or appeals if necessary.

It is important for individuals going through a contested divorce to choose an experienced family law attorney who understands California divorce laws and has experience handling complex cases. The right attorney can help reduce stress during this difficult time while working towards achieving a favorable outcome for their client.

Uncontested Divorce in California

An experienced family law attorney can help couples navigate through an uncontested divorce smoothly by ensuring that all legal requirements are met before submitting their documents to the court.

Definition of Uncontested Divorce

Typically, an uncontested divorce can save time and money since there are fewer legal disputes to resolve in court. Additionally, it allows the couple to maintain control over their own lives rather than letting a judge make decisions for them.

To qualify for an uncontested divorce in California:

  • Both parties must agree on all terms of the separation agreement
  • The couple does not have any minor children together or one party must have lived in California for at least six months prior to filing
  • The couple cannot have been married for more than five years
  • The total value of community property assets cannot exceed $50,000

If these requirements are met then couples can use a simplified procedure known as summary dissolution which requires minimal paperwork and court appearances.

Requirements for Uncontested Divorce

In order for an uncontested dissolution case to proceed through the California courts using summary procedures (which require less paperwork and fewer court appearances), certain additional criteria must also be met:

  • The marriage was less than five years long
  • No children were born or adopted during the marriage
  • The couple does not own any real estate together and have limited community assets/liabilities (less than $45,000)

Process of Uncontested Divorce

  1. File a joint petition with the court stating that you want to dissolve your marriage or domestic partnership.
  2. Wait at least six months from the date your spouse was served with the summons and petition before finalizing your divorce.
  3. Fill out forms related to child custody, visitation, child support (if applicable), spousal support, and property division. These forms will vary depending on your specific situation.
  4. Submit all required paperwork to the court clerk along with any necessary fees.
  5. Schedule a hearing date where you and your spouse will appear before a judge to finalize your divorce.

If everything goes smoothly and there are no complications or disputes over assets, debts, or children’s issues then an uncontested divorce could be completed within several months from start to finish.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Uncontested Divorce


  • Generally less expensive than a contested divorce
  • Faster process since there is no need to litigate issues in court
  • Couples have more control over the outcome and can make decisions together


  • If one party changes their mind during the process, it can lead to a contested divorce which will be more time-consuming and costly
  • If there are complex financial issues such as multiple properties or investments, it may be difficult to reach an agreement without litigation
  • In some cases, one party may feel pressured into agreeing to terms they are not comfortable with because they want to avoid litigation

Conclusion: Choosing the Right Grounds for Divorce in California

Choosing the right grounds for divorce in California is an important decision that will impact the entire process. While no-fault divorce may seem like the easiest option, there are certain situations where fault-based grounds may be appropriate.

Couples should carefully consider their options and consult with a family law attorney before making any decisions. An experienced attorney can help guide them through the legal process, protect their rights and interests, and work to achieve the best possible outcome for their case.

In summary, understanding divorce law in California is essential if you are considering filing for a dissolution of marriage. By knowing your options and working with an experienced attorney, you can navigate this complex area of law with confidence and ease.

FAQ on ‘Divorce Law: Grounds for Divorce in California’

Do I need to provide evidence of fault or wrongdoing to get a divorce in California?

No. As a no-fault divorce state, California does not require either party to prove fault or wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce.

What is the residency requirement for filing for divorce in California?

In order to file for divorce in California, at least one spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing.

Can I file for legal separation instead of divorce in California?

Yes. Legal separation is an option if you do not want to terminate your marriage but still wish to live separately from your spouse and address issues such as child custody and support, property division, and spousal support.

What happens if my spouse contests the divorce?

If your spouse contests the divorce, it may take longer to finalize and may require court hearings. However, ultimately a judge will make a decision on whether or not to grant the divorce based on California’s no-fault standard of irreconcilable differences.