Summary Dissolution of Marriage is a kind of divorce that is a shorter and easier way of ending a marriage than a Regular Dissolution. An Annulment is another way of ending a marriage that is not actually a divorce.

The description of a Summary Dissolution here applies in California. At least one party must have been a California resident for at least 6 months, and a resident of the County filed in for at least 3 months.

A Summary Dissolution is possible for couples

  1. who have no children together and no adopted children under 18 years old. The wife may not be pregnant at the time of filing.
  2. who have been married for less than 5 years.
  3. who don't own very much - no real estate, community property worth less than $32,000 and separate property worth less than $32,000 each (see below).
  4. who don't owe very much - community obligations less than $4,000.
  5. who have no disagreements about how their belongings and their debts are going to be divided up.

Both parties must agree to using the Summary Dissolution procedure, unlike the regular dissolution, where one may file despite the other's objections (this is where nasty court battles can come in).

A form called a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution and a Property Settlement Agreement document are filed with the County Clerk of the county of residence. There is a mandatory six-month waiting period, after which either party can file a Request for Final Judgment to complete the process and finalize the divorce. Either party may stop the process by filing a Notice of Revocation of Petition for Summary Dissolution before the six months are up or before the Final Judgment request is filed. If neither the Final Judgment request nor the Revocation are filed for the court may dismiss the action to clear its records.

In this proceeding, there is no need for the parties to appear in court, nor is a lawyer needed, though consulting one before beginning the process is a good idea. Since there is no trial or hearing there is no right to ask for a new trial nor the right to appeal the decision (of the judge) in a higher court. If one can later prove that the Property Settlement Agreement was unfair or that one was forced into the process or that there were serious mistakes in the original agreement (such as forgotten or concealed property or assets), there may be a case for challenging the dissolution, but this is usually expensive, time consuming and difficult.

If an alien who became a permanent resident by marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident obtains such a dissolution within two years of marriage there is a risk of deportation.

California is a community property state, meaning that money earned and property acquired while married belong to both parties. Separate property includes anything owned before the marriage, money earned or received after the separation and gifts or inheritances received at any time. Community obligations are the debts the husband and wife take on while married; whether in one or both names they are the reponsibility of both parties as a unit - if a debt goes unpaid and one party cannot pay it the other may be obligated to pay it. Car loans are not included in community obligations (probably since cars are so fundamental to the California way of life). Community property and obligations must be allocated to each party so that they can become two separate individuals again (in the eyes of the law).

The state provides worksheets for the couple to fill out to determine the value of separate and community property and community obligations. These worksheets must be filed with the forms mentioned previously.

The Property Settlement Agreement must detail the division of community property and obligations and must include a Waiver of Spousal Support (no alimony from either party will be paid), and both husband and wife must sign and date the agreement.

Filing Process

The forms are filed with the County Clerk in triplicate and a fee is paid ($306.50 in San Bernardino County in 2004). A case number is assigned and two of the copies are returned, one for each party. After the waiting period, if the parties have decided to go through with it, one party fills out the Request for Final Judgement (again in triplicate), files the form and pays a small fee.

The clerk keeps one copy for official records and the other two are mailed to each party. On the day the forms are mailed

  1. the marriage is ended;
  2. the Property Settlement Agreement is binding;
  3. except for those agreements the parties have no further obligations to each other;
  4. the parties are legally free to re-marry.

Source: Recent personal experience and info packet provided with the forms.

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