Legal separation might be the answer if your marriage is rocky, but you are not ready to divorce.
After all, you and your spouse might want to live apart for a while before deciding to formally end your marriage. You might need time to save up money for a divorce or you might need time to meet California’s divorce residency requirements.
Whatever the reason, if an immediate divorce is not an attractive option to you, you can still protect your rights by pursuing a legal separation.
What is legal separation in California?
Legal separation in California is different from divorce. A divorce officially ends a marriage; a legal separation does not. However, a legal separation is a court order. Simply living apart in California does not confer upon you the same protections that a legal separation provides.
If you pursue a legal separation, you can have the court define property rights, issue support orders and pursue custody orders if you have children. These orders are legally enforceable, unlike informal decisions you might make with your spouse outside of legal separation.
For example, if you pursue legal separation you can ask the court to issue an order stating who will pay what bills and debts and who will live in your shared residence while you are separated. You can ask the court to issue a child support order and make temporary child custody arrangements.
Legal separation need not be fault-based
Note that if you file for legal separation, but your spouse wants a divorce, they can still file for divorce. And, if you both agree to a legal separation and later decide you want to divorce, it is possible to convert the legal separation to divorce filings.
Neither you nor your spouse need to prove fault to legally separate or divorce, you just claim “irreconcilable differences.” Getting a legal separation is not terribly different from getting a divorce, the biggest difference is the result — whether or not your marriage is legally ended.