I Want Out! Dissolution or Legal Separation?


When the marital relationship sours to the point where one or both spouses believe that the marriage cannot be salvaged, three remedies are available to terminate or alter the marital status: dissolution, nullity, and legal separation.

UnderFamily Code Sec. 2300, dissolution of marriage can be attained and the “single” status of spouses restored by 1) death of one of the spouses 2) a judgment of dissolution or 3) a judgment of nullity of marriage.

With a dissolution action, there is no issue as to whether a valid marriage exists. The objective in a dissolution action is to terminate the marital status. Conversely, with an action for nullity, the issue is whether or not the marital status ever existed (i.e. whether there was a valid marriage at all). With regard to dissolution, community property is divided equally. With an invalid marriage, although no community property rights exist per se, property acquired during the void or voidable marriage, which would have been community property if not for the impediment to a valid marriage, may be considered “quasi-community” property and divided under the same rules as community property. One has a interest in “quasi-community” property only if there existed a good faith belief that the marriage was valid. (Family Code Sec. 2251).

Alternatively, through legal separation, marital rights and financial responsibilities can be adjudicated without dissolving the marriage. A judgment of legal separation does not terminate marital status. Legal separation may be a viable alternative for persons who, for some reason or another, would like to continue marital status, but would like adjudication of financial issues with his or her spouse. Typical reasons for choosing legal separation over dissolution include to retain eligibility for insurance benefits and to be in accordance with one’s religious beliefs. Like dissolution, an action for legal separation conclusively determines each spouse’s property rights and financial responsibilities to each other, including determination of support and division of the community estate. Once the judgment for legal separation is entered, the parties acquire no more community property and no obligations are imposed on either spouse except for those obligations as set forth in the judgment. Unlike dissolution, the marriage bond remains intact and neither spouse can remarry until the existing marriage is dissolved either by death or judgment.

Residency requirements vary for dissolution, nullity, and legal separation. The foregoing is merely an overview of the various options for terminating or altering marital status, and accordingly, it is advised that you consult with an experienced attorney to further explore which of the above options is best to pursue.

Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C. This article is not a solicitation.

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist. He was President of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive former CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail kureyeslaw@gmail.com or visit our website at Kenreyeslaw.com

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