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                                                        I.               DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE/Registered domestic partnership[1]


A.                 Introduction


Effective January 1, 2005, same sex couples who are registered domestic partners must file a Petition for Dissolution of Registered Domestic Partnership to terminate their relationship. The process is the same as for termination of a marriage.


Because this is a new statute, there are still many unanswered questions as to the precise procedure.


1.                  Terminology.

What used to be called “divorce” in California has been known since 1970 as “dissolution of marriage.” It is one of three ways to terminate a marital relationship, the others being annulment of the marriage or death of one of the spouses. Family Code (“FC”) §310, formerly Civil Code (“CC”) §4350.


Under the Registered Domestic Partnership Act (RDPA), same sex couples who are registered as domestic partners must now terminate their relationship in a Dissolution of Registered Domestic Partnership proceeding in family court.


The parties to a dissolution action are known as the “petitioner” and “respondent,” not the “plaintiff” and “defendant” as in ordinary civil actions. The petitioner is the spouse who initiates the dissolution proceeding, and can be either the husband or the wife; the other spouse is the respondent.


2.                  Applicable Statutes


a.                   History:

Until December 31, 1993, the principle statute applicable to dissolution proceedings, the Family Law Act, was found in the Civil Code at section 4000 et seq. Other sections of the Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Evidence Code and the Probate Code also contained statutes relevant to dissolution (and other family law) proceedings. All of these family law-related statutes, including the Family Law Act were repealed effective January 1, 1994. This is because the California legislature has enacted a new Family Code operative January 1, 1994, which consolidates and organizes most of these statutes in one place.


b.                  Family Code (operative January 1, 1994).

Generally, the California Family Code did not change existing family law; it consolidated and reorganized statutes that were previously found among a number of different Codes. The new Family Code makes it easier for inexperienced attorneys to locate and apply the law.


As of January 1, 2003, the Registered Domestic Partnership Act was enacted, effective January 1, 2005. It is part of the Family Code. It is not yet clear how much of Family Law prior to January 1, 2005 will apply.


c.                   Citations.

Civil Code citations are included in parentheses following the Family Code citations because cases published prior to January 1, 1994 cited old code sections.


d.                  Local rules.

Most counties, including San Francisco, have promulgated “local rules” which impose additional requirements on the conduct of family law litigation. See San Francisco’s Local Rules can be found online at


Additional local “policies” and announcements are published in local legal newspapers, such as The Recorder or The Daily Journal.

[1] This section of the Manual was revised and updated in 2005 to reflect the new registered domestic partnerships laws by Kathryn Kirkland, a family law attorney practicing in San Francisco.

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