What is Legal Separation in California?


If you’re like many Californians, you’ve heard of a legal separation – but what is it, and could it be the right choice for you?

What is Legal Separation in California?

Legal separation is more than just physical separation. That means just because you and your spouse have chosen to live apart, you’re not necessarily “legally separated.” Some people remain married but live apart for years, never actually filing for divorce.

In order to be legally separated, you must have an actual court order. Many legal separation judgments include information on the division of assets and debts, child custody, child support and spousal support.

Some people choose to remain married but live apart through a legal separation. There are a variety of reasons couples choose this path rather than divorce – some are personal, some are religious, and some are financial.

Is a Legal Separation the Same Thing As a Divorce?

A legal separation can accomplish many of the same things a divorce can. However, there’s a very important difference: You’re still technically married, so neither of you can marry someone else if you’re legally separated. The only way you can marry someone else is if you get a divorce.

You can get a divorce at any time during your legal separation.

Can Legal Separation Be One-Sided?

Unlike divorce, legal separation – generally speaking, anyway – must be agreed upon by both parties. The only time that the court can grant a legal separation with only one party’s consent is if the other party doesn’t show up or respond to the petition.

Child Custody and Legal Separation in California Child Custody in a Legal Separation

It’s always in your best interest to reach an agreement on child custody with your spouse, whether you’re legally separating from your spouse or you’re getting a divorce. You and your spouse know what’s best for your children, and when you can reach an agreement together, your whole family will be better off.

Your legal separation judgement can include very detailed information on child custody, including where your children will live, what schools they’ll attend, and who’s in charge of decisions regarding their education, religious upbringing, and more.

Child Support in a Legal Separation

When you have children, you’re both responsible for contributing financially to their lives. Typically, just like in a divorce, the parent who doesn’t primarily live with the children is responsible for paying child support.

While you and your spouse are free to reach your own child support agreement, the judge won’t sign off on it unless he or she finds that it’s fair to everyone involved – including your children. California has standard guidelines that the courts use to calculate child support, so any support amount you and your spouse agree on must fit within them.

Spousal Support in a Legal Separation

Spousal support isn’t an automatic thing, whether you’re divorcing or legally separating. However, either party can ask for it. You can address whether or not support is appropriate, how much should change hands, and how long spousal support should be exchanged in your legal separation documents.

Property Division in Legal Separation

Your property includes everything you and your spouse own – including retirement accounts, savings and checking accounts, and real property, as well as furniture, appliances and other belongings. You can address all of this in your separation agreement.

Debt Allocation in a Legal Separation

Everything you owe – from a mortgage to credit card payments – needs to be divided fairly when you legally separate. Personal loans, tax debts and other obligations count, too.

The Bottom Line on Legal Separation

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether to pursue a legal separation or a divorce. Either way, we can support you and create a strategy that gets you and your children the best possible outcome.

Call us at (209) 546-6246 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with a Stockton family law attorney now.