What is a Legal Separation?

Marriages are hard work. Sometimes, one spouse needs a break from it. You and your spouse may decide to separate. In some states, a legal separation is required before you can file for divorce with the idea that during the separation, you can decide if divorce is indeed what you want. California does not require this.

Despite it not being required, a legal separation can have a significant impact on the outcome of certain issues in a divorce. Regardless of the reason for the separation, you should do it right. There are things to consider, like property and children, that can make a separation messy if you don't put some thought into it first.

A “legal separation”, unlike a non-legally binding separation, typically means a court has approved the separation and the agreement, which outlines things like property and asset division, child custody, and financial responsibilities, including alimony and/or child support. When two parties are legally separated, they live separate lives as though they are divorced but are still actually married. A divorce (or dissolution), on the other hand, means that the parties are no longer married and are free to marry someone else if they choose.

There are different reasons why couples choose to pursue a legal separation rather than a divorce. Some see a legal separation as a time to take a break from a marriage when they are still unsure they want a divorce. Others may choose a legal separation for religious reasons. 

While a legal separation is distinct from a divorce (or dissolution), a family law attorney can help you throughout the process. By sitting down and learning the particulars of your situation, a family law attorney can advise the best way to proceed under the laws of your jurisdiction. They can help you:

  • Determine whether or not you are entitled to spousal support, and the amount
  • Determine whether or not you are entitled to child support, and the amount
  • File and serve any necessary paperwork on your behalf
  • Proceed with a divorce

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