How to End a Short-Term Marriage or Domestic Partnership

The recent 72-day marriage of reality-show celebrity Kim Kardashian to NBA star Kris Humphries brings to light a poignant truth:  sometimes, a legal relationship just isn’t going to be a happy one, and one or both persons know it within a very short time.  In California, there are three possible ways to end a short-duration marriage or domestic partnership.

1.  Summary Dissolution (Summary Divorce)

A summary dissolution (summary divorce) for married spouses or registered domestic partners is available if the couple has no children, has lived together for less than five years, and owns no real estate together.  Each person must permanently waive any right to support by the other. Both persons must sign an agreement dividing their community property and debts, and sign any legal documents needed (for example, a title transfer for ownership of a car) to put their agreement into effect.

Like a standard marital or domestic partnership dissolution, a summary dissolution requires you to wait six months from the day you file your dissolution request with the court.  Then you can file a set of legal documents asking for the court’s formal approval to end the legal relationship.  When the court signs these documents and they are stamped by the file clerk, your legal relationship is at an end. If you decide you don’t want to end the marriage or domestic partnership during the six-month waiting period, you can file papers to have your original request revoked. As with all dissolutions, it is best to consult an experienced lawyer about your rights before making any agreement ending your marriage or your domestic partnership.

2.  Annulment

An annulment – also called a “judgment of nullity” – is appropriate where the validity of the marriage or domestic partnership is in doubt.  This means that there was never any legitimate marriage or domestic partnership, because:

a.  The marriage or domestic partnership was void from the start.  There are three grounds under which it could be void:  incest, bigamy, or failure to follow the proper legal formalities. A void marriage never becomes valid over time.

b.  The marriage or domestic partnership was “voidable.”  There are a variety of grounds for this.  They include one party being below the age of consent and having no parental consent, one party lacking mental capacity, and one party not divorced but in a situation where the first spouse is generally believed to be dead.  Other grounds include fraud, force, and lack of physical capacity. For most grounds, there is a four-year time deadline for having a “voidable” marriage declared void; when this time begins to run depends on the exact reason the marriage was voidable.  However, when the first spouse was believed to be dead but has not been proven dead, that marriage remains voidable.

A party to a void or voidable marriage or domestic partnership has “putative spouse” or “putative domestic partner” status if he or she believed in good faith that the marriage or domestic partnership was valid under California law.  In that case, the “putative spouse” may be entitled to property, support and attorney fees, just as though the marriage or domestic partnership had been valid.

3.  Dissolution

If the parties do not meet the requirements for a summary dissolution, and the legal relationship is not void or voidable, then the parties must proceed by a standard dissolution of marriage (divorce) or dissolution of domestic partnership.  However, the court will take the length of the marriage into consideration in deciding whether to award support to a former spouse or former domestic partner, and may occasionally consider the length in deciding how to divide community assets.  For example, if Kim Kardashian had not had a pre-nuptial agreement, the court may have chosen to give her more community-earned cash in lieu of her half of 72 days worth of her husband’s pension benefit accrual.

Every relationship is different, and you need to know your rights under California law to help ensure you get a fair divorce or dissolution.  If your marriage or domestic partnership is ending, the experienced divorce and domestic partnership dissolution attorneys at Minella Law Group can help you. We’ll discuss your options with you and help you get through all the complications of the process as smoothly as possible. Please call Minella Law Group’s experienced divorce and dissolution attorneys at (619) 289-7948 for an appointment. We look forward to helping you.