legal separationThe three ways people use the court system to end a marital relationship are annulment, divorce and legal separation.  Both annulments and legal separations are uncommon.  A legal separation does not end a marriage.  It’s for couples that don’t want to get divorced but want to live apart and make binding decisions on financial and parenting issues.

Several states don’t allow a legal separation.  California does.  The process for obtaining one in California is virtually identical to the process for obtaining a divorce.  The only real difference is that you ask the court to grant a legal separation rather than a divorce.  As in a divorce, complete resolutions will have to be reached (by agreement or at trial) of spousal support, child support, a parenting plan and division of assets and debts.  When a legal separation is granted, all these areas have been worked out and formalized with court orders but the couple is still married.

Because you are still married under a legal separation, you cannot remarry (unless you get a divorce first).

The filing fee is the same as for a divorce (currently $435).  If after the legal separation is granted you decide you want a divorce, you will have to file a new case and pay a new filing fee.  The divorce will be simple to accomplish if neither of you contest any of the provisions of the legal separation.

Why Get a Legal Separation?

Here are the main reasons that couples sometimes opt for one rather than a divorce:

  • It allows a couple to have more time to see if a divorce is really what they want, while accomplishing a complete court-ordered separation of their finances.
  • If there is concern about financial impropriety, a Legal Separation does not have the 6 month waiting period required for a divorce;
  • A divorce may be unacceptable for religious reasons.
  • It may be possible to keep one spouse under the other’s health insurance coverage.  A divorce severs this possibility.  However, many if not most health insurance policies do not extend coverage to legally separated spouses.
  • It may preserve the right to receive social security survivor benefits.
  • It keeps the marital clock running in order to meet the ten years of marriage required to qualify for social security spousal benefits.
  • It may preserve the right to receive certain retirement benefits or military benefits.
  • The couple can continue to reap tax benefits of marriage, such as being able to file with the status of “married filing jointly.”
  • It may limit liability if one spouse hasdebts or has had reckless behavior.
  • The couple may not have been in California long enough to meet the divorce residency requirements.