What to Know About Legal Separation in California

If you’re considering legal separation, you may have some questions. What is legal separation? How is it different from divorce? Why choose separation instead of divorce? Navigating this maze can feel overwhelming and uncertain. We aim to assist you, helping you gain answers and find your footing in this process.

In this article, we will define what legal separation is in California. We will explore how it’s different from divorce, why you would choose separation, and finally, how you can make the best choice for yourself.

Legal separation in California allows married couples to formalize living apart while remaining married. In this process, the court assists in dividing property and debts while also addressing matters involving children.

Legal separation maintains the couple’s marital status and specific marital benefits and obligations despite living separately. This can serve as a stepping stone towards divorce or be a permanent arrangement for those who prefer to maintain some marital benefits while living apart. The couple may also ask the court to set aside the separation should they decide to reconcile.

One of the most important things to note is that the couple’s marriage is still valid with a legal separation. That means neither spouse can marry anyone else while legally separated.

What is Divorce in California?

The dissolution of marriage, also known as divorce, is a legal termination of the marital status. In this process, both parties are free to remarry. Divorce proceedings divide assets and debts and may determine alimony (spousal support) and child custody.

During a legal separation, spouses address issues similar to those in a divorce. Below are the basics and what you need to know about.

  • Division of Property — The court addresses the fair division of property and assets acquired during the marriage. This process also involves determining the equitable distribution of assets, such as real estate, vehicles, investments, and personal possessions.
  • Responsibility of Debts — The court will also allocate responsibility for paying marital debts accrued during the marriage. This includes mortgages, loans, credit cards, and other financial obligations.
  • Spousal Support — Legal separation also considers the individual parties and will possibly order alimony. This financial support allows for a similar standard of living to be maintained that was established during marriage.
  • Child Provisions — When children are involved, the court will address their well-being. This will include child support, child custody arrangements, or both. These arrangements will ensure the children’s financial needs are met while also addressing the time of the children with both parents.

Legal separation presents a unique path for couples who are facing complexities in their relationship. Understanding the reasons behind choosing legal separation over divorce involves carefully considering various factors. If you are confused about whether this is the best choice for you, we have provided some things you should consider when making this life-changing decision.

  • Financial Considerations — Legal separation may make the most sense for you if you wish to maintain certain financial benefits tied to your marital status. This includes, and is not limited to, health insurance, taxes, interest protection, or properties.
  • Religious or Moral Reasons — You and/or your spouse may disagree with divorce because of religious or moral reasons, making legal separation your only option.
  • Child Custody and Support — Some couples will choose legal separation when children are involved. This route offers a structured approach to custody and support while living apart. 
  • Insurance and Benefits — When a couple divorces, the dependent spouse’s health insurance benefits would terminate. However, during a legal separation, health insurance, social security, pension plans, and other benefits may remain intact for the parties.
  • Property Rights and Division — California is a community property state, meaning all marital property (and debts) will be split 50/50 between both parties. This allows for a fair division of property and debts acquired during the marriage without completely severing financial ties.
  • You Don’t Meet California’s Residency Requirements — To get a divorce in California, one spouse must have resided in California for at least six months. If neither spouse meets the residency requirements, they cannot divorce. However, legal separation is an option from your first day living in California. 

Making the Best Choice For You

As you can see, there are some vital differences in legal separation and divorce in California. Navigating the maze of the best option for you and your family is complex. While making this vital decision, it may be helpful to think of a legal separation as a pause button, a step towards rebuilding what’s been broken, and a divorce as the end of a path, a permanent closure.

No matter which path you’re considering, it is essential to seek counsel from an expert attorney who understands the laws and complexities associated with divorce or legal separation and can successfully guide you through the process.

Turn to The Gorski Firm For Your Family Law Needs

In the uncertainty of navigating the maze of legal separation, having an experienced, qualified family law attorney is essential to guide you through the process and ensure your rights are protected. Guidance, comfort, and expertise are all important to you in this process.

The Gorski Firm is here to help. We understand what you’re going through, and we are here to guide you with the legal and emotional support that you desire while going through this process. Our firm was founded on the values of reliability, respect, integrity, trust, and loyalty, and these values are non-negotiable. 

Let’s discuss your options. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Written by Vincent A. Gorski

Vincent Gorski is a Bakersfield California Family Law and Bankruptcy lawyer. He is certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization in both Family Law and Bankruptcy. He is the founder of The Gorski Firm and assists clients in complex and routine family law and bankruptcy issues. He was licensed to practice in Indiana in 2007 and California in 2009. He regularly writes on topics related to Bankruptcy and Family Law issues (divorce, custody, visitation, support, property division, etc.)

January 19, 2024

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