Most people think of divorce as a long, contentious process. The image of a husband and wife bickering back and forth, arguing over every last detail for months, is one TV and movies have pounded into our collective mind.
It’s true, divorce can be mean, nasty, and riddled with conflict. But it doesn’t have to be. Summary dissolution offers an alternative. In certain cases, if a couple meets a specific set of criteria, it’s possible to get a quick, easy divorce in California.
Related Reading: 6 Divorce Trends
What Is A Summary Dissolution?
Summary dissolution presents a solution in the case of short marriages with few complications where the spouses are on the same page. Only an option in particular circumstances, not every couple qualifies for a summary dissolution.
Most people will have to go through the normal steps to file for divorce. To qualify, you have to check off a number of boxes relating to the length of your marriage, debt, assets, children, and more.
But if you meet the requirements, and if you and your spouse are generally on the same page, this may be a way to shorten and streamline the divorce process.
Related Reading: Divorce Versus Annulment
How Can You Qualify?
Length of Marriage:
As mentioned earlier, not every union qualifies for summary dissolution. This is intended only for shorter marriages. In fact, if you have been married for more than five years, you will have to go the more traditional divorce route. However, if it’s been less than five years from the day of your wedding to the date of your separation, this may be an option.
If there are children involved, summary dissolution is not a possibility in your case. This includes both biological offspring as well as adopted children. If you have one on the way, that also disqualifies you from following this path.
Land or Buildings:
Ownership of any land or buildings, even in part, puts summary dissolution out of reach. This also includes any lands or buildings that you and your spouse rent together, outside of your shared home, so long as you don’t have a one-year lease or option to purchase. If you bought a house together, you’ll have to take a different route.
California is a community property state. All property acquired during a marriage is viewed as belonging equally to both parties. This also includes debt, often called community obligations. If these shared debts total more than $6,000, excluding car loans, you don’t qualify for summary dissolution. This includes everything from student loans and credit card debt to medical bills and financed furniture.
Again excluding cars, if the community property acquired during a marriage doesn’t exceed $45,000, you may qualify for a summary dissolution. In addition to savings and checking accounts, this amount includes just about anything.
Jewelry, furniture, and even pets figure into this amount. As do life insurance, joint or individual pension plans, and savings bonds. If you have season tickets to the Padres, that can count towards this total as well.
$45,000 is also the magic number when it comes to separate property. This includes stocks, savings, and pension plans acquired outside of the marriage. Any pension benefits accrued after the separation also fit into this category.
As does the fair market value of items like jewelry, televisions, furniture, cameras, and more. If either party exceeds $45,000 in separate property, summary dissolution is off the table. Again, this does not include cars.
In many divorces, the court may order spousal support, either temporarily or indefinitely, to help your ex meet financial needs. In order to qualify for a summary dissolution, however, you and your spouse must agree that neither one of you will ever get alimony.
Division of Property:
Division of property can be a huge part of the divorce process. Splitting up shared assets can take a great deal of time and become contentious.
For a summary dissolution to be granted, both parties must sign an agreement detailing how community property and debt will be divided. This includes who gets the TV, how retirement benefits are broken up, and who has custody of the pets.
Anything claimed as shared property must be addressed here. In this case, it does include cars. When it comes to debts, this document also lays out who is responsible for making certain payments. Debt is generally assigned to whichever spouse benefited more from a specific purchase.
There are also residency requirements to qualify for summary dissolution. Either you or your spouse must have lived in California for at least the past six months.
Beyond that, you must have lived in the county in which you file for at least three months. These are general rules for any divorce in the Golden State, but they also apply in these cases.
Related Reading: Are Pets Considered an Asset in Divorce?
How To File For Summary Dissolution
If your case matches checks off all these boxes, you can proceed with summary dissolution. From here, it’s a fairly straightforward task. First, you must determine the correct court in which to file, based on the county or counties where you and your spouse reside.
In addition to any forms the local court requires of you, you have a number of documents to fill out. Chief among these is the Joint Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage and the Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment form.
After all of the worksheets are filled out, the financial information exchanged, forms filed in the appropriate court, and fees paid, you will receive your divorce judgment ending your marriage.
Summary dissolution is one way to simplify and streamline the divorce process. If you and your spouse are on the same page and can work together, and if you meet the criteria, this may be an option worth exploring.
In relatively simple cases where there is little to argue over or fight about, it can be a quick and easy way for you and your spouse to dissolve your marriage and move on with your lives.
Related Reading: Legal Separation Or Divorce?
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post and has been revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.