California Divorce 101

Deciding to end a marriage can be terrifying. There are several issues to take care of including child custody, property division, and spousal support, which can be overwhelming during this difficult time. However, by understanding California’s divorce laws, you can be better prepared for the process.

Grounds for Divorce

In California, there are only two legal grounds on which a court will grant a divorce. The most common reason someone will file for divorce is that there are irreconcilable differences. This means that the spouse asking for a divorce does not have to prove the other spouse did something to cause the separation. This is known as a “no-fault” divorce.

The other grounds for dissolution of a marriage is permanent legal incapacity to make decisions. Essentially, this means that the spouse can no longer make their own decisions due to health reasons. For this divorce to be granted, it must be proven.

Property Division

California is a community property state, meaning that any property that either spouse acquired during their marriage is considered “community property,” and is subject to division during the divorce process. Community property includes all purchases made, debt, pension and retirement plans, and income earned during the marriage. It does not matter if the purchase is only in the name of one spouse, nor does it matter which spouse made the purchase.

When it is time for the property division process in a divorce, it can quickly become very contentious between each spouse. This is common in divorce cases because neither spouse can agree on how to divide their assets. However, in California, typically, each spouse will receive one-half of the community property and be responsible for one-half of the debt.

Property that cannot be divided is “separate property,” which is anything that was owned or purchased before the couple was married. Separate property can include gifts or inheritances, even if it was acquired during the marriage. Additionally, any purchases made with separate property will still be considered separate.


When a couple separates or gets divorced, the court can order a spouse to pay their partner a certain amount of supporting income each month, which is known as alimony or spousal support. During the divorce process, one spouse may ask the other for spousal support by obtaining a temporary spousal support order. This order can be finalized once the divorce is finalized.

A judge will consider spousal support by looking at how much each spouse can earn to sustain the standard of living they had during their marriage. Factors the judge might look at can include:

  • The job skills of the spouse receiving support
  • The current job market for those skills
  • Whether or not the spouse receiving support will need to take time and money to obtain the skills required to get a job
  • If the earning capacity of the receiving spouse was impaired by being unemployed due to their domestic duties

Generally, the duration of spousal support will be about one-half of the length of the marriage, but depending on the situation, a judge has the power to make a different decision. The ultimate goal is to give the receiving spouse enough reasonable time to earn an income comparable to their standard of living.

However, if the marriage is considered “long-term,” the judge can decide not to set an end date for spousal support payments. This is typically in marriages that are ten years or longer.

Child Custody

If the couple getting divorced has children, they will have to decide how to handle the sharing of parenting responsibilities. There are two things that parents will have to make a decision on – “child custody,” which are the rights and obligations between parents for taking care of their children, and “visitation,” which is how each parent will spend time with their children.

When determining the custody order, there are two types of child custody decisions to be made. They include:

  • Legal custody: the ability to make important decisions for the child (including healthcare, education, and welfare)
  • Physical custody: where the child resides

Legal custody can be joint or sole. In joint custody, both parents share the right to make crucial decisions for their child. Whereas, sole custody means only one parent has these rights.

Physical custody can also be joint or sole. With joint physical custody, the child lives with both parents, and with sole or primary physical custody, the child lives with one parent a majority of the time and will usually have visitation time with their other parent.

A Roseville Divorce Lawyer Can Help

A California divorce can get extremely complicated, and navigating the state’s laws can be confusing. With the help of an experienced Roseville divorce attorney, you can ensure your rights are being protected throughout the process. The attorneys at Cianci Law, PC are here to assist you with your legal problems so you can focus on you and your family.

Call Cianci Law, PC at (916) 797-1575 if you have questions about your divorce case.

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