Divorce, Annulment and Separation for Gay Couples

When a couple decides to legally end their relationship, there can be more than one course of action. Below, we’ll outline the differences between annulment, separation, and LGBT divorce, as well as a brief overview of how domestic partnership comes into play.


Despite what pop culture may tell us, annulment is not used for married couples or domestic partners who simply change their mind. Instead, an annulment may occur when one or both parties prove that the marriage or domestic partnership was never legal. This can be caused by a variety of reasons, each of which has a different deadline for filing for an annulment. This deadline is called the statute of limitations. For example, one reason to annul a marriage occurs when one individual was under the age of 18. In this case, the statute of limitations allows an annulment to be filed within 4 years of when the minor turns 18. As another example, “an annulment on grounds of force can only be filed by the person who was forced to give consent,” and they have 4 years from the time of marriage to file. Proving grounds for annulment is not a simple process. It is highly recommended to work with an attorney to ensure the best outcome. After all, annulment does not come with the same legal protections as divorce, since it claims the marriage was never legal to begin with. This is particularly important if there are children involved, or any concerns about the division of assets and liabilities.

Legal Separation

Though some LGBT couples may choose to be informally separated, such as moving out of shared home, legal separation involves a legal process similar to a divorce. However, unlike a divorce, when a couple legally separates, they officially remain married. There are quite a few reasons why a couple may prefer this option. For example, they may have personal or religious aversion to divorce. Or, they may need to maintain some benefits of marriage, such as shared health insurance. It may also be the case that the couple has recently moved to California and they do not yet meet residency requirements to file for divorce. Yet, while the couple remains married, legal separation allows them to clarify issues such as child custody and divisions of assets and liabilities.


A divorce is the legal end of a marriage or domestic partnership. You do not need a specific reason to divorce, and both partners do not need to agree to the divorce. Expect the process to take at least 6 months. A divorce will spell out financial and estate planning items such as spousal support, and how to divide assets such as real estate property or joint savings, as well as liabilities such as loans or other debt. For couples with children, a divorce will clarify custody, visitation rights, and child support.

Domestic Partnership

Due to the history of gay marriage in California and throughout the country, many LGBT couples have chosen to use a domestic partnership to legally bind their relationship. Some couples were first joined through a domestic partnership, and later chose to get married as well. This adds another layer of complexity. Though domestic partners have similar processes for legally ending a relationship, they are not exactly the same. They have different forms, different timelines, and often different residency requirements. For a quick introduction, read our recent post that introduces the basics of domestic partnerships.


Annulment, separation, and divorce can affect every aspect of life. Having a knowledgeable and understanding attorney for support can help the process move much more smoothly. This is particularly important if complicating factors such as immigration status, domestic violence, child custody, or complicated division of assets and liabilities are a part of your relationship. To schedule a free consultation and discover if one of our Palm Springs and Los Angeles-based attorneys may be a good fit for you, contact us.

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