On the 1st of January, 1970, Governor of California (and future President) Ronald Reagan made California one of the first states to allow no-fault divorce. The latest, New York, only became a no-fault divorce state in 2010 – just four years ago.

Many people hear the words “no-fault divorce” and wonder what they mean. While each state has different divorce laws, the no-fault divorce laws in California simplify the process of divorce by removing the requirement of proving wrongdoing.

Prior to the introduction of no-fault divorce, married couples could only end their marriages through divorce by proving to the court that one (or both) partners had committed wrongdoing of some sort.

This is known as at-fault divorce, and it remains a legal standard in many countries around the world. In California, proving fault – such as infidelity or abuse – is not a requirement in order to dissolve a marriage.

What is no-fault divorce all about?

California’s no-fault divorce laws mean that you can choose to divorce for a wider range of reasons than was previously available. Prior to the 1970 law, divorces had to be proven to a court and could be prevented due to a variety of circumstances.

If a couple that no longer wished to remain married wanted to divorce but could not due to the court’s decision, they could become legally separated. This prevented the people from remarrying – a major restriction that no-fault divorce has solved.

No-fault divorce has made divorce more accessible for people in unhappy marriages or abusive situations. Studies indicate that since its introduction, suicide rates have fallen for people in abusive or unhappy marriages that previously did not divorce.

What does this mean for you?

If you would like to end your marriage, California’s status as a no-fault state means that you can do so without proving wrongdoing on the part of your partner. Getting divorced is simpler and less legally complex, and also significantly less expensive.

In simple terms, California law requires only one spouse’s will to initiate a divorce and end a marriage. This prevents abusive partners from preventing their spouse from ending their marriage by blocking the divorce – something once possible.

If you file for divorce in California, you become the “Petitioner.” Your spouse, who is responding to the divorce filing, becomes the “Respondent.” Both parties are treated equally under the law in a divorce proceeding, whether they filed or responded.

If you are thinking of ending your marriage, their could be strategic benefits to being the Petitioner. Before taking action, it’s important to speak to a divorce lawyer, who can provide you with legal advice related to your particular personal situation.

How long does it take to get divorced?

Although California divorce law doesn’t require fault to be proven for divorce to be issued, divorces aren’t immediate. In fact, divorces are not finalized until six months after their filing date, and they are not finalized without your involvement.

The reality is that, despite California’s six-month finalization period, most divorces require significantly longer than six months to process. The complexity of the case, the division of marital property and other factors can extend the divorce process.

If you and your spouse have children, agreements regarding child custody, visitation and support can also lengthen the process. It’s best to think of six months as a short, minimum figure for your divorce to be processed and finalized in California.