How to File for Legal Separation in California

Hossein Berenji, Dec 14, 2020

In California, marriage or registered domestic partnership terminates by:

Couples who do not wish to divorce might choose legal separation instead. There are similarities between legal separation and divorce, but there are also differences.

In a legal separation, the court decides the same issues it would in a divorce case.  The court can resolve child custody and child support issues in a legal separation case.

But legal separation does not end the marriage. So neither spouse is free to remarry.

California Legal Separation Reasons

California law allows for legal separation for two reasons:

  • Irreconcilable differences, which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage
  • Permanent legal incapacity to make decisions

The court can enter a judgment of legal separation if both spouses agree. When spouses agree to legal separation, attorneys can still assist them through mediation.

If one spouse files a petition and the other spouse does not make a general appearance, a court can also enter a legal judgment of separation.

Why Spouses Choose Legal Separation

The reasons spouses choose legal separation are private and unique to their relationship. Some reasons couples choose legal separation include:

  • Religious reasons or personal beliefs
  • They want to live apart and have court orders in place for money, property division, and parenting issues
  • They don’t yet meet California residency requirements for divorce and need immediate separation
  • They wish to stay married for financial benefits

An experienced California family law attorney can help with your legal separation.

Legal Separation for Married Couples

To file for a legal separation in California, at least one spouse must be living in California. If the couple meets the residency requirement after filing for a legal separation, they can later request a divorce, if they wish.

For California to exercise jurisdiction over marital status, either spouse must have lived:

  • In California for the last six (6) months, and
  • In the county where they will file for divorce for the last three (3) months

You can file for legal separation even if you have not lived in California long enough to meet the residency requirement for divorce. Then, after enough time passes, you can ask for a divorce.

Legal Separation for Domestic Partners

The residency requirement for domestic partners is a little more complicated.

If a domestic partnership was not registered in California, at least one partner must be living in California to file for a legal separation.

For domestic partnerships registered in California, you can file a legal separation even if neither partner lives in California. It is important to know that courts may only have the jurisdiction to end the partnership in these cases. If your partner does not live in California at the time of filing, the court may not be able to decide property use, financial support, or child issues.

Financial Benefits of Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Marital status can impact all aspects of your finances. Tax tables and health insurance policies are dependent on marital status.

Filing for legal separation allows for quick separation of finances. A change in marital status can shift or limit tax obligations. When it’s costly to wait, a legal separation may be the best choice.

Marital status also triggers eligibility for health insurance and other benefits. Divorce can cause partners and children to become ineligible for benefits. Legal separation allows for control over individual finances without risking health benefits.

When to Contact a Legal Separation Attorney

If you want to protect your family’s financial security and stability and you think a legal separation is right for you, talk to an attorney.