Not everyone can file for divorce in California. To get a divorce in the state, you must first meet the residency requirements. These requirements are strict, and they mandate that you or your spouse must have lived in California for the last six months and lived in the county where you want to file for the last three months. If you or your spouse recently moved to California, there is no way to “get around” the residency requirement. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t file for divorce.
Understanding the Residency Requirement
In California, the steps in the divorce process are relatively clear. The first step toward dissolution of marriage is for the petitioner (the person filing for the divorce or separation) to file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, or Form FL-100, with the civil courts in the county the person has lived in for at least the last three months. If you and your spouse have lived in separate counties for at least three months, you can file in either county. You must sign the document under oath that states you or your spouse fulfills the state’s residency requirements.
If the minimum time frames have not yet passed, the courts will not accept your petition. If your spouse has lived in California for at least the last six months, and in the same county for the last three, you can file for divorce regardless of your own residency status. However, if neither one of you meet these requirements, you must take a different route. Although you cannot file a Petition for Dissolution without meeting the residency minimums, you may still file for legal separation instead.
Filing for legal separation has no residency requirements in California. You and your spouse can legally separate until enough time has passed that you can file to amend your petition and request a divorce. Your other option is to simply wait until you or your spouse fulfills the requirements. If you’re close to this deadline, waiting might not pose a significant issue. If you cannot wait, file for legal separation until you qualify for an official divorce.
Exceptions to the Residency Requirement Rule
There is an exception to California’s residency requirement rule. Same-sex married couples who married in California but currently live in a state that will not dissolve same-sex marriages may get a divorce in California regardless of residency requirements. Simply file in the county where you married. If you and your spouse are in a registered domestic partnership in California, you also do not need to meet the same residency requirements as married couples.
Even if you have never lived in the state or if you moved away, you may end your domestic partnership by filing in California. If you registered your domestic partnership in a state other than California but now want to file for separation within the state, you must meet the residency requirements: six months of living in California and three months of living in the county where you want to file. Note that if you’re in a domestic partnership and a same-sex marriage at the same time, you and your spouse must fulfill the requirements for both to end both. Speak to an attorney for help with complex California divorce or separation cases.