Legal Separation in California – All You Need to Know

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Aug 16, 2023

Divorce is not always the right option for a couple, and some couples wish to separate before they meet the state’s residency requirements for divorce. Married couples can separate without getting a divorce by filing for legal separation.

Understanding Legal Separation

Legal separation does not dissolve a marriage like the divorce process does. Instead, it allows spouses to divide assets and determine child custody as if they were getting a divorce. For some couples, they obtain legal separation as a first step to getting a divorce or to determine if they want to get a divorce or not. Other couples have no intention of obtaining a divorce, but they still want to live separately. When filing for legal separation, couples can either mediate an agreement or ask the family court to make orders regarding:

  • Property division
  • Alimony or domestic partner support
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support

These issues are handled like a divorce, and the couple acts as divorced in all manners except legally. This means that parties cannot remarry or enter another domestic partnership, as their marriage or partnership has not been legally dissolved. A Legal Separation Lawyer in Orange County, CA, can help a couple determine what separation method is ideal for their needs. Spouses can live separately, have separate property, and follow a parenting plan while still being married in the eyes of the law.

Why Might a Couple Get a Legal Separation Rather Than a Divorce?

A couple may have several reasons for deciding to get a legal separation instead of a divorce, including:

  1. Divorce residency and waiting period requirements. To get a divorce in California, one party must have been a resident of the state for 6 months and a resident of the county they are filing in for 3 months. Additionally, couples are required to wait a period of 6 months until the divorce is finalized. When a couple doesn’t meet this requirement, they can file for legal separation. Only one spouse needs to live in California, with no time requirement, to file for legal separation. They can separate and have court orders for the separation until they can file for divorce.
  2. Religious or personal reasons. Under some religions or moral beliefs, divorce isn’t allowed or is considered immoral. Legal separation does not dissolve a marriage, allowing couples to separate without divorcing.
  3. Financial benefits. Because a couple is still legally married after separation, they can benefit from marital tax benefits, health insurance, retirement benefits, and other joint financial benefits.
  4. Emotional reasons. Some couples may not want to divorce to make things easier on a child or because spouses want to retain some sort of relationship with each other. Legal separation can be a good alternative that isn’t as final as a divorce.
  5. Time to consider. Legal separation may be helpful if couples aren’t sure if they want a divorce or not. It may allow them time to reconcile in the future or determine if they should file for divorce.

The Process of Legal Separation

Obtaining a legal separation is very similar to filing for divorce. It includes the following steps:

  • Filing the petition for separation
  • Serving the other spouse the papers
  • Disclosing shared and separate assets and debts
  • Mediating a separation agreement or receiving court orders for separation
  • Finalizing the agreement through the court

A family law attorney can make this process easier and provide a smoother mediation. They can also defend your rights and represent you in litigation.


Q: How Much Does a Legal Separation Cost in California?

A: The filing fee for a legal separation in California is $435 to $450, but this is not the only expense in a legal separation. There may be additional filings, such as child custody determinations and child support petitions. There may also be other court costs, especially if hearings are required. A legal separation, like any family law case, can be less stressful and easier with legal counsel, but this counsel will also cost money. Because legal separation is often faster and more straightforward than a divorce case, legal costs are generally less than in a divorce.

Q: What Are the 3 Types of Separation?

A: In California, there are 3 main ways to end a marriage or domestic partnership. These include:

  1. Divorce: Divorces in California are filed on a no-fault basis and can be uncontested or contested. Some marriages may qualify for summary dissolution, which is a faster form of divorce.
  2. Legal Separation: This does not legally end a marriage, but it allows spouses to separate their assets and determine important aspects of divorce until they meet the residency requirements or choose to end the marriage.
  3. Annulment: This acts as though a marriage never happened, which means that there is no separation of assets or spousal support under court jurisdiction. Annulment is only available for certain marriages.

Q: What Are the Disadvantages of Legal Separation in California?

A: Legal separation enables a married couple or a couple in a domestic partnership to be separated like a divorce without legally dissolving their marriage or partnership. This means that you can’t remarry or enter another legal partnership until your prior marriage is legally dissolved. It can also be hard to get a divorce if you can’t find your spouse. Legal separation also means that spouses are still entitled to certain benefits, and joint financial accounts can still connect parties.

Q: What Are the Grounds for Legal Separation in California?

A: Just like divorce in California, the grounds for legal separation are a no-fault separation or incurable insanity. A no-fault separation, also called irreconcilable differences, is more common. Neither party is at fault for the separation, but there are irreconcilable differences that require separation. A family law attorney can help you determine under which grounds you can file your legal separation.

Determine Your Options for Separation

A divorce or legal separation is a difficult decision to reach for any couple. If you’re unsure what your legal options are for separation, the qualified attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, can walk you through the options and help you and your spouse make an informed decision about your future. Our firm has 40 years of collective experience in family law, and we are glad to support families in the Orange County area. We understand the sensitivity needed in cases like divorce or separation. Contact our team today and see how we can make this process less stressful.

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