In California, there are three ways in which to legally end (i.e., dissolve) a marriage:
- Death of one of the spouses
- Dissolution of marriage
- Nullity of Marriage (judgment saying there never was a marriage in the first place)
With the death of one of the spouses, the marriage is automatically dissolved, and the living spouse is now single and free to remarry. However, the death of a spouse does not automatically stop all current or future litigation. Other factors (such as probate) will determine whether legal action continues.
In an action for nullity of marriage, a court will determine whether a marriage was void or voidable from its inception (beginning). For example, a marriage is void if one of the parties was already married to someone else on the date these people married; or the proper marriage licensing procedures were not followed. The marriage is void from the onset of it. In other words the marriage never happened. A voidable marriage is one where the marriage would normally be valid, but certain factors induced the marriage that without them, the marriage would not have happened. An example would be fraud by one party to induce the other party to marry. Granting a judgment of nullity of marriage based on fraud or misrepresentation to induce marriage can be very difficult to obtain. The standard of proof is extremely high. But even if a court grants a judgment of nullity of marriage, it does not necessarily end all other end-of-marriage issues, such as property rights, child custody and/or support. It also does not end the rights of third parties, such as creditors.
When both spouses are living, the marriage is valid, and one or both of them wishes to end the marriage, the only option to terminate it is a judgment of dissolution of marriage. In this situation, the basis, or grounds, necessary for termination are irreconcilable differences between the parties. California is a "no fault" state. Neither party is considered innocent or at fault and will not receive better or worse treatment under the law based on past good or bad behavior (such as fidelity/infidelity or desertion). But keep in mind that incidences of bad behavior may be shown to prove other issues, such as mismanagement of community assets. When the marriage is dissolved, the community assets and debts will be divided equally between the two parties.
Although ending a marriage by a judgment of dissolution seems relatively easy, there are many issues involved and dissolution proceedings can be (and usually are) very complicated. To avoid potential complications, it is in the best interests of both parties to obtain the assistance of someone specializing in family law issues.