What‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Difference‌ ‌Between‌ ‌Dissolution‌ ‌of‌ ‌ Marriage‌ ‌and‌ ‌Legal‌ ‌Separation?

In California, there are multiple ways couples can alter or end their marriage. Spouses who wish to terminate their marriage permanently can file for dissolution‌ ‌of‌ ‌ marriage‌, commonly known as divorce. If they have the proper grounds, they can annul their marriage by filing for annulment of their marriage. Couples who are looking to separate without legally ending their marriage can file for legal separation.

If you are considering ending your marriage, you’ll want to understand the different options available to you. Every marriage is different and the best choice for you will depend on your given circumstances.


In California, divorce is defined as the legal termination of a marriage. In a divorce, spouses seek to dissolve their union and end all legal and financial ties. To be eligible to file for divorce in California, you must have been a California resident for at least six months as well as a resident of the county in which you want to file the petition for three months.

Both spouses don’t need to agree to the divorce. If one spouse initiates a divorce and the other doesn’t take part in the process, a default judgment will likely be placed on the resistant spouse. In other words, it takes two people to say “I do,” but only one to say that “I no longer do”. One spouse cannot stop the other spouse from getting a divorce if they want to get a divorce. Because of California’s absence of a fault law, the spouse filing for divorce doesn’t need to prove any fault of the other party.

When filing for divorce, couples will try to reach reasonable compromises on important issues such as division of property, child custody and visitation, and child and spousal support. If the spouses are unable to come to an agreement, the case will go to court where a judge will decide the outcome of these issues.

Dissolution‌ ‌of‌ Marriage (Summary Dissolution)

In the state of California, a dissolution of marriage is a simpler divorce process. If couples are eligible for a summary dissolution, they can save time by avoiding court proceedings and filing less paperwork. To be eligible for a summary dissolution, couples must meet all the following requirements:

  • Have been married for five years or less
  • Neither spouse owns a home or other real estate
  • The couple did not have any children during the marriage and the wife is not pregnant
  • Community debt is less than $6,000 (excluding auto loans)
  • The couple’s combined property doesn’t exceed $43,000
  • There is a written division of assets and debt
  • Both spouses agree to waive alimony

A dissolution of marriage is a good option for couples who want to end their marriage in its early years before building financial and personal entanglements.

Legal Separation

Legal separation allows couples to physically separate but it does not end the marriage and does not permit spouses to marry others. This allows couples to live in separate residences and neither party is required to communicate with the other for decisions on finances and assets.

While many legal separations ultimately lead to divorce, many couples prefer to legally separate first when they are unsure if a divorce is really what they want. It can serve as a trial run for a divorce in many instances. If the couple is able to work out their differences, it will be much easier for them to return to normal compared to if they had filed for divorce. 

A legal separation is also a viable choice for couples who cannot get divorced due to religious reasons. Another reason why people do legal separation is because of health insurance coverage. If one party is uninsurable, then legal separation allows the other party to continue to carry them on their employer-provided health insurance plan whereas if the parties are divorced, they are no longer each other’s dependents and thus, cannot carry each other on their health insurance plan.

There are no residency requirements to enter into a legal separation in California whereas divorce requires you to be a resident for six months before you file. Because of this, many couples who are ineligible for a divorce will opt for legal separation until they meet the residency requirement to get a divorce.


Annulments are quite different from legal separations, summary dissolutions, and divorces. Whereas the other methods of ending or altering a marriage recognize the legal validity and clear start and end date to a marriage, an annulment treats the marriage as if it never happened.

You can obtain an annulment when there are grounds that the marriage was never legally valid. For example, a bigamous marriage is never valid in California and can be nullified. Other legal grounds for receiving an annulment include situations when:

  • The marriage was the result of force or fraud
  • One spouse was underage
  • One party was of “unsound mind” to consent to the union
  • One spouse had a previous marriage or domestic partnership that was still legally valid.

If you can prove any of these conditions, you can obtain an annulment in California at any time. Unlike divorce or legal separation, you cannot get an annulment for “irreconcilable differences”. Be aware that since the marriage is considered to never have been valid, you may not have rights to any assets of your former spouse if you receive an annulment. If there are children from the marriage, you may still be eligible to have child support and custody terms included in the annulment so long as you can prove parentage.

Contact Azemika & Azemika

The experienced divorce attorneys at Azemika & Azemika Law understand that every case is unique and can help you protect your interests in a divorce or legal separation. For comprehensive legal counsel on your options during your divorce or legal separation, contact Azemika & Azemika Law, Kern County Divorce Attorneys. We will craft fast and effective solutions for your unique circumstances and needs. We will fight for and protect you and your family during the separation and divorce process.

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