California Legal Separation Basics

California Legal Separation

In California, legal separation is a process that allows you and your spouse to live separately but still technically remain married. There are many reasons people choose legal separation over divorce – most of them very personal – and it can be the right solution in many cases.

California Legal Separation

The process of a legal separation in California is really similar to the divorce process. You’ll still file paperwork and work out major issues, such as child custody, child support, and property division.

Why Do People Choose Legal Separation in California?


California’s legal separation process doesn’t divorce you – and it doesn’t have to ever lead to divorce, either. Some couples legally separate and never actually dissolve their marriages. There are many reasons people want to separate without divorcing; some are emotional, some are cultural, and some are purely financial. Here’s a quick look at some of the reasons people in California legally separate:

  • Tax benefits
  • Healthcare coverage
  • Religious beliefs
  • Cultural reasons
  • Rights to property benefits if one passes away

Legal separation can be temporary if that’s what the couple wants, or it can be permanent. Divorce, on the other hand, is always permanent – and that means if the couple reconciles and wants to get back together, they’ll have to remarry each other.

What if You Prefer a Legal Separation to a Divorce?

Many people prefer legal separation to divorce, and if you’re one of them, you need to know that legal separation in California is very similar to divorce. You may need to settle issues such as:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Property division

Living apart doesn’t mean you’re legally separated. Technically, you’re separated – you live in your own homes. But in California, legal separation comes with a judgment signed by a judge, and in many cases, it also comes with court orders that refer to all the major issues listed here. In some cases, you don’t need any court orders (like if you and your spouse have few assets to divide, or you don’t need child support or custody order).

Is the Date of Separation on Divorce Documents the Same Thing as Legal Separation?

California Legal Separation and Divorce

The date of separation on your divorce document is not the same thing as a legal separation. You can be divorced without ever legally separating. The date of separation is simply the day that your marital relationship ended – the final time.

The courts determine your date of separation by following Family Code 70, which says that it’s the day one spouse expresses to the other that he or she intends to end the marriage and that his or her actions are consistent with the intent to end the marriage. (All that means is that you and your spouse have to do more than argue and angrily say, “I want a divorce!” Your actions have to be consistent with wanting a divorce.)

Can You Get a Legal Separation if Your Spouse Doesn’t Want One?

You and your spouse must both consent to a legal separation – you can’t just file for it and get it like you can with a divorce. The exception is when one party doesn’t show up to court or respond to the petition; in that case, the judge can choose to grant you a legal separation judgment.

When Can You Get a Divorce if You’re Legally Separated in California?

California Legal Separation Basics

In California, legal separation doesn’t mean you have to get back together to get a divorce. At any time before, during, or after your legal separation makes its way through the court system, you can ask the court to grant you a divorce. Your Stockton divorce attorney would need to file different paperwork, though – it’s not just a matter of showing up in court and asking the judge to change the status of your case.

Do You Need to Learn More About California’s Legal Separation?

If you need to know more about legal separation in California, we may be able to help you. Call us at (209) 546-6870 to schedule a consultation with divorce attorney Anna Maples. We’ll answer your questions about child custody, child support, and other matters, as well as refer you to local professionals if you need help that we can’t provide, such as divorce counseling or asset management.