California Divorce Laws

If you are facing the reality of filing for divorce in California, understanding the laws surrounding your case can help you make wise, informed decisions, especially when it comes to your children and property.

Who Can File for Divorce and On What Grounds

California divorce law dictates which individuals can file for divorce in the state. It is not a no-fault state, but the reasons for which one can file are fairly ambiguous. They are as follows:

  • Irreconcilable differences that caused an irremediable breakdown of the marriage
  • Incurable insanity
  • Addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Personal indignities
  • Adultery
  • Violence

In addition, those interested in filing for divorce in California must have lived at least six months in the state, with three of those in the county where they plan to file. After filing, couples must endure a six-month waiting period before the divorce will be granted. If one spouse is a member of the military, then he or she must be stationed in California for at least six months in order to file in the state. The couple also must follow the guidelines of military family law when filing, and often the use of an attorney is recommended.

Division of Property

Property is divided in California based on the “Community Property” principle. This states that all property acquired during the marriage is divided equally by the court, provided the parties cannot come up with a mutual agreement on their own. Sometimes, however, circumstances will warrant a different plan. For instance, if the court decides that one party has deliberately mishandled the property to protect it from the other party, they may award things differently. As for debts, the following factors apply:

  • Debts taken on for the common necessaries of life for the spouses or the children are allocated based on each individual’s needs and abilities to pay at the time the debt occurred.
  • Debts taken on for non-necessities will be allocated without offset to the spouse who took on the debt.
  • Debts taken on after the couple files for divorce but before the marriage is terminated are the responsibility of the individual who took on the debt.

Child Custody

When parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the courts will do so, striving to keep the child’s best interests in mind. Factors considered may include:

  • The welfare, health, and safety of the child.
  • Any abuse in the family’s history.
  • Contact that will be allowed with both parents.
  • Any habitual use of controlled or illegal substances, including alcohol.

The goal is to give both parents contact with the child, whenever it is safe to do so. The child custody arrangement will contain detailed instructions about custody and visitation rights. Joint custody is the preferred option whenever it is a possibility.


Child support will be determined based on the Income Shares Model. This looks at the income of both parents and determines the amount of support paid to the custodial parent. The laws take into account the goal that each parent pays a portion of the child’s care expenses. Some cases will also result in spousal support payments. Factors considered when determining whether or not this is necessary include:

  • Earning capacity of each party, and whether or not it can maintain the standard of living during the marriage
  • The extent to which the supported party contributed to the education, job training, career advancement, or licensing of the supporting party.
  • The ability of one spouse to pay spousal support.
  • Needs of each party based on the marital standard of living.
  • Obligations and assets each party has.
  • Length of marriage.
  • Age and health of the party.
  • Ability to support children.
  • Tax consequences.
  • Balancing the hardships for each party.
  • Any other factors the court deems necessary.