The California Family Courts provide three options for couples who want to end their marriage in legal terms: Legal Separation in California, Divorce, or Annulment. Any of the spouses can file a petition for any of these methods, whether both parties are agreeable or not.

The question is, what does any of these mean for couples who are still confused in finding the right option?

In this article, we’ll focus on discussing the alternate solution of Legal Separation and how it differs from Divorce.


What is Legal Separation?

The term “Legal Separation” refers to the court-ordered separation of spouses without the dissolution of marriage. It involves having a legally binding agreement that states the couple’s rights and responsibilities while living apart.

Legal separation refers to a legal process by which a married couple may formalize a separation while remaining legally married. The couple remains bound by the terms of their marriage, but they may live separately and resolve issues such as property division, spousal support, and child custody through a court order or private agreement.

A legal separation can be an alternative to divorce for couples who are not ready or able to end their marriage permanently. In some jurisdictions, a period of legal separation may be required before a divorce can be granted.

The process of obtaining a legal separation typically involves filing a petition or complaint with the court and following the jurisdiction’s specific legal procedures. A family divorce attorney can help navigate the filing issues and assures the paperwork gets entered properly.

The terms of a legal separation may be enforced through the court system if one party fails to abide by them.

Overall, legal separation can provide a structured and legally-binding framework for separating couples to address their differences and move forward with their lives, whether or not they choose to eventually divorce.

Technically, Separation is not the key to legally terminating a marriage, which means that both parties aren’t allowed to remarry as they’re still bound by law. They’re only legally allowed to separate in particular terms, such as living under different roofs and independently owning properties or valuable possessions.


Process of Legal Separation in California

Legal Separation in California can be initially accomplished by either one of the parties.


Legal Separation in CaliforniaGrounds for Legal Separation include irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity. Also, there are several elements factored in the process of Separation, such as child custody, division of property, protection of assets, and spousal support. In this situation, the filing party may want to use the services of a Legal Separation Attorney to assist both parties during the entire process.

There are specific requirements that must be met for the parties to get legally separated in California. It includes, but is not limited to, provision of the marriage certificate, the legal separation court registry form, and/or setting a court hearing date.

The first step for filing a legal separation is submitting a petition to the court. There’s a filing fee for the petition, which the petitioner can settle with the court clerk. Once the petition is accepted and approved by the court, it must be officially served to the other spouse. The other spouse shall respond to the petition according to what was ordered by the court.

The spouses can either settle the agreement under the advisement of a divorce and family law representative and present it to the court; or face a court hearing— depending on the case.


Why Couples Choose Legal Separation

Couples may choose legal separation over divorce for various reasons.

Some common reasons include:

  1. Religious beliefs: Some religious couples may view divorce as a moral or religious taboo and choose legal separation as a way to separate while remaining legally married.
  2. Emotional reasons: Some couples may feel a sense of attachment to one another and may choose legal separation as a way to maintain their relationship on some level.
  3. Financial reasons: A legal separation can offer the couple the opportunity to maintain joint financial responsibilities and benefits, such as health insurance and tax benefits, without dissolving the marriage.
  4. Continuity of benefits: For couples who have been married for a long time, legal separation can provide a way to maintain certain benefits, such as pension and retirement benefits, without having to go through a divorce.
  5. Testing the waters: Legal separation can serve as a trial period for some couples to see if they can resolve their differences and eventually reconcile or if they need to proceed with a divorce.
  6. Lack of finality: Some couples may not be ready for the finality of a divorce and choose legal separation as a way to take a step back and evaluate their relationship.

Regardless of the reason, legal separation allows couples to live separately while still maintaining the legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage. It can provide a structured and legally-binding framework for resolving differences and moving forward, whether or not the couple ultimately decides to divorce.

Couples often opt for Legal Separation to test the marriage condition before proceeding to file for a Divorce. Taking time apart in legal terms could be a first step to finally ending the marriage, but it’s hardly a necessary prerequisite. Besides, in some cases, couples find a way to reconcile while being legally separated, which is advantageous since the Legal Separation can be dismissed if they decide to get back together.

A legal Separation is also an option for couples who want to observe religious practices/beliefs. Moreover, spouses can continue providing financial support, retain tax benefits, preserve social security benefits, and receive insurance benefits. 

Both spouses must agree to the Legal Separation agreement that has been drawn out and approved by the court. If there are differences between the couple, they may not be fit for this method, which then introduces the option of filing a divorce. However, the state of California requires a six-month cooling-off period from the date of actual separation before they can petition for a divorce case.


Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Legal separation differs from divorce in many ways.

In Legal Separation, there’s a chance for the couple to reconcile their problems and issues. However, if it seems like their differences are beyond the best practices of marriage, they can opt to have a Divorce.

Proceeding to Divorce means that the couple is ready to terminate the marriage based on legal grounds. This also means that once the divorce is approved, it is final and cannot be undone.

Couples can also opt to get an Uncontested Divorce, but this usually requires non-existing domestic violence or irreconcilable differences between them. Filing for an Uncontested Divorce means that both spouses are agreeable with the decision of marriage dissolution. Legal separation and divorce in California

Before getting divorced, one has to know the laws of the local state. Although it is possible to get divorced in California, the state may have specific rules that need to be followed. The best practice would be to hire a family and divorce lawyer near you who specializes in divorce cases, especially when the party is trying to fight a strong case.

An advantage of deciding to get divorced in California is that it is a “No-Fault” divorce state. As such, any of the parties involved will not need to prove that the other party was at least partially responsible for the marriage failure, as long as grounds for marriage dissolution is provided. In some cases, the parties will agree that the marriage was not a successful one, and they may choose to dissolve the marriage without a trial but with the help of a legal representative.

Once the marriage is dissolved, both parties are considered equal. The court can help the couple decide on finalizing the marriage terms, especially with child custody and support.

The requirements for getting a divorce in California will differ from one case to another. For instance, a divorce may be obtained without a lawyer by using the judicial separation provisions in the California Civil Code. However, it is not mandatory to use Judicial Separation provisions.

If one is seeking a divorce in California under a “No-Fault” scenario, one might need to hire a lawyer to obtain a court order for the separation process.



Ending a marriage through Divorce or Legal Separation is a decision that has to be made after considering all the circumstances of the situation. Couples need to know about all the options available to them.

There are many alternatives covered in California family law, and one will have to be informed before making a final choice. It would be ideal to hire a family divorce lawyer like Leon F. Bennett to ensure that both parties are fully aware of all the necessary aspects of the case.


About Family and Divorce Lawyer, Leon F. Bennett

The Law Offices of Leon F. Bennett provides efficient and effective Family Law services throughout Southern California for over 35 years that satisfy you and your family’s goals. Leon F. Bennett, Esq. is an expert family law attorney in Woodland Hills, Ca., who will get the desired results for you and your family. Contact us today to request a consultation!