How to File Legal Separation in California

woman filling for legal separation

Many people mistakenly believe that the only way for an unhappy marriage to end is to file for divorce. In reality, there is another option that may be worth considering – a legal separation. This is considered to be an alternative to divorce.

Legal Separation vs Divorce California

Marriage is effectively a legal contract between two individuals. A legal separation is a pause in this contract. Divorce is a formal end to the contract.

When a court grants a legal separation, it is important to understand that you remain married to your spouse. Nevertheless, a California court will divide your property, and you make arrangements for financial support and childcare. Despite still being married, you can live apart from your spouse.

Judgment of Legal Separation vs Date of Separation

It is important to note that there is a distinction between the date of separation, which signifies when a couple chose to live separately, and a court entering a judgment of legal separation. The date of separation is generally just a reference point for a California court to determine how long the marriage lasted and to decide issues of property characterization. It does not impact the actual status of the spouses as married or not married.

In contrast, legal separation occurs when a formal court order is entered. That formal status can only be brought about by a Judgment of Legal Separation. It is not related to the date of separation in any real sense.

Why Choose Legal Separation in California

While legal separation and divorce share similarities, there are numerous reasons why married couples opt for legal separation rather than divorce. First and foremost, there are fewer prohibitions and limitations placed on couples seeking a legal separation. For example, in California, you are unable to file for divorce due to your religious beliefs. This limitation is irrelevant when it comes to pursuing a legal separation.

woman with child looking happy through legal separation

Legal Separation Process

Under California law, a legal separation does not formally end a marriage or domestic partnership. Rather, a legal separation entails a court determining the rights and responsibilities of spouses who have decided they no longer want to live together and need to separate. It is important to understand that obtaining a legal separation does not equate to a divorce, and you will still, technically, remain married to your spouse. Nevertheless, a legal separation order does carry the force of law when it comes to child support and spousal support.

The actual process of filing for legal separation in California is similar to the process of filing for divorce. A spouse needs to file a petition, pay a filing fee, and serve the petition on the other spouse. In addition, both spouses are required to file financial disclosures with the court in order to obtain a legal separation.

Required Documents

Similar to the divorce process in California, a fairly voluminous amount of paperwork is required to obtain a legal separation. Below is an overview of the forms and documents that both you and your spouse are obligated to complete and file:

  • FL-100: Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership. This starts your divorce.
  • FL-100: Summons. This tells your spouse about your impending breakup.
  • FL-105: Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Use this form if you have children together that are younger than 18.
  • FL-115: Proof of Service of Summons. This form notifies the court that you’ve served papers.
  • FL-120: Response—Marriage/Domestic Partnership. This form allows your spouse to respond to your petition.
  • FL-140: Declaration of Disclosure. This form is a cover sheet for your financial paperwork.
  • FL-150: Income and Expense Declaration. This form details your financial health.
  • FL-142: Schedule of Assets and Debts. This form details what you own.
  • FL-141: Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure. This form tells the court you’ve sent your documents.

Legal Separation Advantages

If you are on the proverbial fence about filing for legal separation or filing for divorce, there are some noteworthy advantages associated with legal separation. Unlike divorce, there is no statutory residency requirement to obtain a legal separation. Basically, this means you do not have to be a resident of California for at least six months to file for a legal separation. The ability to file quickly is often cited as one of the primary reasons why many people opt for legal separation rather than go through the tedious and lengthy divorce process.

Hire a Family Law Attorney

Separating from your spouse is an emotionally-draining and challenging experience. You may be feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what to do and how to do it. This is why it makes sense to retain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable Marin County divorce attorney like Jeremy Castro. Contact the Castro Law Offices today to schedule a confidential case review with an experienced divorce attorney.

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