Understanding the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce in California

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Understanding the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce in California

If you and your spouse are constantly arguing with each other, resentful and ultimately unhappy as a married couple, then it may be time to consider ending the marriage. If you are in this situation, the options available include a legal separation or filing for divorce. You may be asking yourself, “what exactly is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?” Let’s take a look.

The key difference between a legal separation and a divorce is in the permanence of the decision. If you and your spouse decide to separate legally, you have the option to live and act as separate individuals but can join back together as a married couple. On the other hand, if you file for divorce, you are permanently ending the marriage. The dissolution is final and you would wind up being a single person again. Let’s take a look at other key differences between the two options.

Overview of Legal Separation

California is one of the states that allow married couples to legally separate. A legal separation is an official court order from the state where you and your partner live apart and carry on your lives separately. This option allows you to create financial boundaries, determine who is responsible for assets and debts, and detail child custody and support rules, without the permanence of divorce.

Reasons to Choose Separation Over Divorce

You may choose to ask a judge for a legal separation as opposed to a divorce for the following reasons:

  • You aren’t sure about completely dissolving your marriage but want to live apart
  • You aren’t sure about completely dissolving your marriage but want to clearly define financial, property, and co-parenting matters
  • Your religious observance prohibits divorce
  • Your personal views or beliefs rule out divorce as an option
  • You want to retain certain benefits of marriage, such as
    • Staying on your partner’s health insurance plan
    • Receiving tax benefits
    • Receiving government benefits (e.g. Social Security)
  • You have not met the residency requirements to file for divorce (see below “California Requirements”) but want to start the process of legally separating
  • To ensure your rights are protected and your goals are met, you can work with an attorney to thoroughly review your case and present it to the judge.

California Requirements for Separation

To file for legal separation in California, either you or your partner must be a legal resident in the State. You must also provide a reason for why you are choosing to separate. Because California is a “no-fault” state, you actually don’t need a specific reason to point out what your partner did wrong (i.e. irreconcilable differences).

Understanding the Ramifications of Divorce

A divorce, or “dissolution of marriage” is a permanent end to your marriage. You become legally single and are allowed to remarry, if you choose. Generally speaking, you can choose to litigate or mediate your divorce, so you should read about the major differences and benefits to each method. Similar to a legal separation, you come to an agreement or ask a judge to order how money, assets, debts, custody, and support are handled.

Why It May Make Sense to File for Divorce Rather than Separate

Though legal separation goes through many of the same motions as divorce, the key difference is that divorce is a final end to your marriage. This means you would be legally single and can remarry. Remember, this means you cannot use your spouse’s health care plan or file joint tax returns.

Legal separation can be used as a trial if you aren’t sure about completely dissolving your marriage and forgoing the benefits associated with it. Divorce is an option to cut legal ties and your involvement in joint financial matters or programs afforded to married couples.

Once again, the most efficient and comprehensive way to achieve your goals in a divorce is to work with an attorney. In the case of a divorce, a divorce consultant is often the most flexible and cost-effective choice that helps you through this challenging time.

Requirements for Divorce in California

California has time-bound restrictions before filing for divorce. Either you or your spouse need to have resided in California for the last six months. In addition, the same person must have lived in the filing county for the last three months. If you or your partner do not meet these California residency requirements, you can opt for a legal separation, then file for divorce after the appropriate amount of time has passed.


Unique California Requirements for Divorce and Legal Separation

California is considered to be a “no fault” state for the purposes of divorce. This means one spouse does not need a specific reason to file for divorce and the other spouse does not need to agree.

A unique aspect of California law is that you must wait at least six months before your divorce can be finalized. In addition, you must have lived in the same county in which you filed for at least three months. In contrast, there is no waiting period for a legal separation.

Both legal separation and divorce have the same requirements for filing purposes. Along with residency requirements, you need to choose the reason for your petition, whether it is irreconcilable differences or the incurable insanity of your spouse. These decisions can be made with the assistance of a skilled and respected Marin County divorce attorney.

Take Action Today – Contact Castro Law Offices, P.C.

If you are considering filing for divorce, or have begun the process, then it is understandable if you have questions about what steps are necessary to ensure your divorce is recognized and finalized in a court of law. In addition to important questions, you may be feeling unsure about how to proceed and are concerned about the impact the divorce will have on your future. These feelings are understandable and are why it makes sense to retain a skilled Marin County divorce lawyer such as Jeremy Castro to help you during this difficult time. Jeremy Castro possesses the experience you need to handle an array of complex divorce matters. Contact his office today so Jeremy can go to work for you.

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