Divorce in California, as in some other states, is not just for married couples. The law also allows divorce and other separation options for domestic partners and other long-term relationship arrangements.
Just because you did not formally get married for any reason does not mean that you do not need help negotiating the issues that you would typically cover during a traditional divorce.
One of the options for couples in a domestic partnership is a summary dissolution, but this is only available for some. A summary dissolution is an option for separating couples who have not been together long and who do not have children together. In order to qualify for a summary dissolution, you need to have been in a marriage or domestic partnership for fewer than five years, may not own land or property together and may have no children together. There are also some requirements on what other assets and debts you have as a couple.
For those who qualify, a summary dissolution is a good way to get a divorce or to terminate a domestic partnership. It is not just a legal separation, and each spouse will be able to remarry or get into a new relationship lawfully after a summary dissolution.
Couples with more complex situations, such as higher assets, property, children or who have been together for a long time, may find that they need to go through with a traditional divorce. California does make this option available for couples in a domestic partnership. You may also be able to get a legal separation, and some can even seek an annulment if the foundation for the relationship may have been unlawful. For example, a domestic partnership that involved coercion or false identity may be a good candidate for annulment.
If you are in a relationship and have not created a formal domestic partnership, you may still be able to pursue legal help separating from your partner. California courts have ruled that even couples who did not formally marry may still be able to pursue spousal support payments (“palimony”) or claim the rights of a spouse in some cases. And you may enter custody or property division proceedings similar to those for a married couple.
Ultimately, the decision of how you want to end your relationship is up to you, the nature of your relationship and how much legal intervention you need to achieve a palatable outcome.