The ending of a marriage is a difficult time for all involved and is often particularly stressful for families with children, whether or not the separation is amicable. Our team is sensitive to what our clients are going through and believes that the best approach, when possible, is to handle the matter without litigation.
We do our best to make the process of divorce or separation efficient; while we endeavor to keep the matter amicable, we also know, from experience, that emotions run high, the other side does not always play fair. Therefore, we never lose focus that our job is to protect our client, their assets, and what’s most important to them to the best of our ability.
Marital status is terminated through a process well enumerated by California law. Sometimes a legal separation is requested for reasons which typically include: Immigration, spiritual or religious, cultural or family, or health insurance. However, if one side requests legal separation, the other side can request Dissolution of Marriage and the case will automatically convert.
Other ways to terminate marital status include no-fault or no-contest divorce (when neither party is at fault for the relationship’s degradation, and/or neither party wishes to contest the division of assets, support, or custody), or a contested divorce (where the parties could not reach an agreement and are contesting the division of assets, support, or custody). Annulment of the marriage can be requested, which is typically only granted if the marriage lasted less than three months or fraud was a factor).
The attorneys at SVLO are familiar with all of these situations and are available to meet with you and discuss the specifics of your case and best option(s) moving forward.
In some cases, it may be possible to seek an annulment, rather than going through the long and often stressful process of divorce. Also called “nullity of marriage,” an annulment is different from a dissolution of marriage in that the marriage is considered retroactively invalid. If you are granted a nullity, it means that legally, your marriage is considered to never have existed at all. Unlike a divorce, there is no six-month waiting period enforced after filing the Petition—if your Petition is granted, it is considered effective immediately, and you will be legally single.
Because of the way nullity works, there are some specific criteria your marriage must meet in order for a judge to grant the petition. Any one of these criteria will be grounds for annulment, but the burden of proof is on the Petitioner, and the judge must be satisfied that the criteria has, indeed, been met in order to grant the annulment.
In California, the possible grounds for annulment include:
Either the petitioner or their spouse was under the age of 18 at the time of the marriage. In order for this criteria to be considered, the petition must be filed within four years of the petitioner or their spouse reaching the age of 18.
Either spouse had an existing previous marriage. If bigamy is discovered, an annulment petition can be filed at any time, providing the first spouse is still living (otherwise the first marriage would no longer be considered valid).
Either spouse is considered to be of unsound mind. Both spouses must be alive in order to file on these grounds, and proof of the affecting illness must be provided to the judge’s satisfaction.
Either spouse is physically incapable of consummation. If filing on these grounds, you must do so within four years of the marriage.
Either spouse was defrauded in the marriage. The petition for annulment on the grounds of fraud must be filed within four years of the fraud being discovered.
Either spouse was coerced into the marriage. The petition must be filed within four years of the marriage, and coercion at the time of the marriage must be proven.
The spouses are proven to be related to each other by blood.
There are a lot of potential complications in any annulment Petition, and you would be best served seeking experienced legal counsel before proceeding. Our team will be able to help you determine which, if any, of these criteria you might qualify your case for annulment, and how to satisfy the Court’s burden of proof, so that your Petition has the highest chance of being granted.
Because an annulment legally renders the entire marriage null and void, there are potentially serious consequences worth considering when determining the best path forward for your specific case. Community property laws will not apply in the event of a nullity, meaning you and your spouse will have to divide your assets yourself—as if you’d never gotten married in the first place. Likewise, any marital benefits you may have received—insurance, for example, or a right to spousal support or inheritance—will be completely severed, and neither you nor your spouse will have any legal obligation to support the other after the Petition is granted. Because of this, we recommend an in-depth legal consultation, so that we can explore with you the potential risks and benefits to an annulment action versus another form of dissolution. That way, we can work with you to achieve the outcome that will best suit your needs.