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Divorce, annulment, legal separation: What are the differences?

Once you and your spouse decide that the relationship is over, you might wonder what your options are. In California, you have three options that you can pursue in this case. You can choose to get a divorce, a nullity or a legal separation. Each of these options has specific considerations that must be factored into your decision.

What is a divorce, a nullity and a legal separation?

A divorce is a legal end to your marriage. It is sometimes called a dissolution of marriage.

A nullity is sometimes referred to an annulment. This means that your marriage is ended in a way that appears like the marriage never happened.

A legal separation is similar to a trial divorce. A judgment is issued that contains the terms of the separation, but you are still married when the legal separation is finalized.

How can I get a divorce, annulment, or legal separation?

You have to go through the court to get any of these options finalized. When you go through court, you have to be aware of the filing procedures and various laws that pertain to your case. This can often prove complex. This means that you might spend a lot of time going through statutes and other information if you don't have experience in family law.

Is the legal process full of fighting and strife?

If you and your spouse are able to work together to decide on the specific terms of the divorce, annulment or separation, going through mediation or collaborative law might make the process easier. In these cases, you and your legal representation work with your spouse and their legal representation to decide what terms are appropriate for your divorce. Having a firm representative who knows how to negotiate can help you keep your rights protected through either of these processes.

Source: Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, "Divorce/Dissolution" Sep. 11, 2014

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