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Providing Alternatives to Divorce:  Legal Separation, Annulment and More

For most couples, the end of their marriage is a confusing, overwhelming period. They not only have to contend with the emotional ramifications of the end of such a close relationship but must take steps to further the legal process of dissolution.

Divorce may not necessarily be the answer at this juncture. Working with Central Valley and Stockton divorce lawyers, you may find alternatives to divorce that are better suited for you and your spouse.

California law ensures that spouses can take advantage of a few alternatives — namely legal separation and annulment — that may be more specifically relevant to their marital dissolution situation. Understanding how legal separation and annulment actually works, and the obligations that these processes impose is critical.

The experienced Stockton marital dissolution lawyers at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau, LLP regularly represent those who are navigating the end of their marriage. Our team recognizes the challenges facing couples attempting to reach a resolution, and we work closely with our clients to identify and execute strategies that maximize their overall financial, emotional, and social wellbeing.

Struggling to understand your options for ending the marriage? Our Stockton family law firm is here to help. Contact our firm for comprehensive legal advice.

California Divorce Basics

California is a no-fault state, which means neither spouse needs to prove that the other has engaged in some misconduct justifying divorce. You may file for divorce on the basis that there are irreconcilable differences that simply can not be resolved.

The divorce process is not always a short one. In some cases, it can take from six months to a year to fully execute the divorce. California also implements a six-month “waiting period” minimum. If your divorce process takes just three months to finalize, for example, then you will have to wait an additional three months before your marital status is actually changed.

Divorce is a complex process, and in some cases hostile. As such, navigating the process can be costly, particularly when one or both spouses dispute some aspect of the divorce. Our Stockton marital dissolution lawyers find that alternative processes are often worth considering.

Legal Separation in California

In California, as in other states, spouses may file for legal separation. This allows both spouses to live independently, physically relocate away from one another, and divide their finances and custody responsibilities. Though there is no waiting period for legal separation, it is not a complete “break.” In other words, the spouses may not remarry during the separation period.

Legal separation is generally seen as a testing ground for divorce. Spouses who are not quite ready to call it quits may want to test the waters and see how their lives would respond to them operating independently. California courts encourage amicable separations, as the spouses may eventually reconcile. Even when the spouses do not reconcile, the separation period may provide excellent insight into how they should eventually finalize the division of assets and custody (in the event of divorce).

Legally separated spouses may have their separation amended to a divorce at a later date. As the legal separation process (and subsequent divorce) can be rather confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the system, it’s worth consulting experienced Central Valley divorce lawyers for guidance.

Annulments are Possible in Limited Circumstances 

Annulments are often associated with traditional religion, but they are also a legal mechanism through which either spouse can designate the marriage as invalid. In other words, by successfully filing for annulment, the spouse has declared the marriage as not ever having legally existed. When a marriage is annulled, there is no division of assets, as there were never any actual marital assets (as the marriage was legally invalid).

Annulment can be an incredibly challenging process and requires the skillful legal advocacy of Stockton marital dissolution lawyers. Annulments must be brought within a short period of time after marriage. In California, the statute of limitations is four years but may differ depending on the basis for the annulment.

Proving a Marriage Invalid in California for Annulment

Unlike California divorce, which requires no further explanation, the spouse seeking to annul the marriage must prove the marriage was legally invalid. He or she can do so by showing:

  • The relationship was incestuous
  • Either or both spouses were already married before entering into the current marriage
  • Either or both spouses were below the age of 18 when they entered into the marriage
  • Either or both spouses were of “unsound mind” — in other words, they were incapable of understanding the nature of marriage and its obligations
  • Fraud (i.e., convincing a spouse that they can have biological children when they know that they are impotent)
  • Duress

Marital dissolution through annulment is ripe for abuse, as a spouse may attempt to avoid having to split marital property and payout alimony by identifying the marriage as legally invalid.

In some cases, this may lead to a highly unjust result, which is all the more reason to have Stockton marital dissolution lawyers play a role in your annulment proceedings. For example, if you married your spouse under the impression that you had finalized your previous divorce. In truth, however, you forgot to complete the remaining documents to ensure that your divorced status was finalized. Under these circumstances, you might honestly believe that you were entitled to remarry.

If years later, your spouse attempts to annul the marriage after learning this information, then you could ostensibly secure the division of property (and spousal support) by qualifying as a “putative spouse” under California law.

Contact MCJG to Learn About Divorce Alternatives

The dissolution of a marriage can be a truly challenging time for both spouses. Even when the situation is hostile, each spouse may have a wide range of complicated feelings (and other concerns) that surface over the course of the dissolution process.

At McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau, LLP, our team of experienced attorneys regularly represent clients in divorce and related matters, helping them effectively navigate this difficult process or, when appropriate, secure an annulment or legal separation instead.

If you’d like to speak to a skilled attorney at MCJG, we encourage you to schedule a consultation today. Call our office at 209-477-8171. Though we are located in Stockton, CA, we serve clients throughout the state of California, including the Central Valley.

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