No-Fault Divorce in California

By | August 4, 2016

When a couple decides to end their marriage, it is extremely common for man and wife to blame each the other for the failed relationship. We hear it all the time: adultery, pornography, distance, work, etc. But, legally speaking, does it matter who is at fault for the failed marriage? It might surprise you but the answer is no, it doesn’t matter to a California family court. CA is a no-fault divorce state.

This post helps spouses understand why “fault” doesn’t matter in the eyes of the law. Continue reading to learn more about the role of fault in a California divorce.

 

No-Fault Divorce – What is it?

The law is very straightforward. Family Law Code § 2335 states:

Except as otherwise provided by statute, in a pleading or proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, including depositions and discovery proceedings, evidence of specific acts of misconduct is improper and inadmissible.

In California, all divorces filed are on no fault grounds. A spouse does not need to prove that he/she was wronged in the marriage. Although the reason doesn’t matter, divorces are generally filed because of something called “irreconcilable differences,” which is another way to say that the couple doesn’t get along. Because California law does not need a reason for the divorce, no one would be punished or have to pay more child support for something like having an affair. Additionally, California is a community property state which means that all property owned during the marriage is to be divided equally between both properties.

No-Fault Divorce | Family Law Attorney

California’s No-Fault History

The Family Law Act of 1969 was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan, which made California the first no-fault divorce state in the country. This law took away common obstacles of getting a divorce. As a result, the divorce rate increased in the US by approximately 20 percent. A spouse can proceed in dissolving a marriage by the simple, common ground of “irreconcilable difference”. This term is used because it is broad and makes any faults or misconduct irrelevant to the filing of a divorce. The Family Code made significant modifications to this process, even changing the name from “divorce” to “dissolution of marriage” or “legal separation” for domestic partnerships.[1]

Why the No-Fault Law Exists

Finding out who was “at fault” for the divorce led to emotionally charged petitioners (the person filing for divorce) to make all sorts of exaggerated or false accusations (perjury) just to get their petition for divorce approved. Lawmakers saw this as a systemic problem that brought out the dishonesty in people. After Regan signed the no-fault legislation, the court doesn’t need to know why one wants a divorce. It was less demeaning and demoralizing to both parties involved.

There are exceptions to this law. In a few situations, California courts might consider fault when determining terms of the divorce. If a person hides assets during the divorce proceedings, the court may require that spouse to pay money to the other spouse. Claims of abuse, can also be considered in figuring out child custody or child support terms.

Fault Divorce vs. No-Fault Divorce

Before no-fault divorce was enabled, a spouse would need to provide a particular reason for divorcing his/her partner. Acceptable reasons for a fault divorce included: adultery, cruelty, or abandonment. When a court determines terms in a fault divorce, misconduct by a spouse can be punished by receiving a smaller share of property or having to pay the other spouse for hiding assets. On the other hand, in a petition for no-fault divorce both spouses will be treated equally when determining terms of the divorce.

Basically, in a “fault” divorce, the mess of dissolution gets even messier. Currently, CA’s court systems are absolutely swamped. If family law judges were required to find fault in every case, the court would be even more backlogged.

Can a Divorce Be Stopped?

As previously mentioned, California does not require a spouse to be wronged in order to file a divorce. That means anyone can file for a divorce in California, with the simple reason of no longer wanting to be with their spouse. Unfortunately, with no-fault divorce in California it only takes one spouse to file. Even if the other person does not want a divorce, it cannot be stopped.

California law requires the divorce process to have a 6 month period to pass before the possibility of a final divorce. This 6-month waiting period allows for the individuals to change their minds.

If you’re looking to dissolve your marriage, talk to a family lawyer that can help you with the terms of divorce. In this difficult process, things can get complicated even if filing for divorce is made easier with the no-fault law.

Divorce Lawyer Consultation

If you’re planning on divorcing your spouse and feel that you need legal representation, contact our divorce lawyer for a consultation. Even though CA is a no-fault divorce state, splitting from your spouse is a complicated matter. When assets and children are on the line, having experienced legal representation on your side will brings an incredible amount of peace of mind.

Also note that an annulment is different than a divorce/dissolution. Learn more about annulments here.

[1] Cal Gov. Code §2330.

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