In California, spouses have the option to pursue a legal separation. This is a court-recognized status that resolves all the same issues as a divorce does, except that you and your spouse are still legally married, even if you’ve divided up all your property and live in separate households.

It begins with a Petition for Legal Separation, and there will be hearings or a trial process as deemed necessary by California courts.

So why take this step over divorce?

There are a few common reasons for making this move.

You think you might try to reconcile.

This is one of the most common reasons for a legal separation. Neither you or your spouse are sure you really want to end the marriage, but need time and space to work out your problems.

It’s easy and quick to end a separation, too, by filing a Petition to Dismiss the separation.

You can’t divorce for religious reasons.

If divorce is against your religious beliefs a legal separation can allow you to live in separate households and to divide up your property without touching on your spiritual status.

You might think the difference is semantic, but keep in mind you can’t remarry during a legal separation, and you could remarry if you got a divorce.

You retain all the rights and benefits of marriage.

This includes tax benefits, access to health insurance, and claims on social security, unless otherwise impeded by the separation agreement. For many couples, this is extremely important, as sometimes spouses who are having trouble getting along nevertheless bear their partners no ill will and want to see them taken care of.

If you have military benefits, your spouse will retain those as well.

See also: How a Military Divorce Differs from a Civilian Divorce in California.

You don’t have to wait.

You can’t fully dissolve your marriage until six months after a divorce petition. And you can’t even start one if you haven’t lived in California for six months. You may pursue a legal separation at any time.

The grounds for pursuing a legal separation are exactly the same: irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity. Most couples use the former, as the latter requires proof.

How to Start the Legal Separation Process

You can get a divorce whether your partner wants to or not. But both parties must agree to a legal separation.

At that point, all the same issues will need some sort of resolution: child custody, child support, spousal support, and division of property. They will be treated much the same as they would have been treated if you’d pursued a divorce instead. Indeed, often legal separation agreements form the basis for eventual divorce agreements.

This is why you should never pursue a legal separation on your own. It’s not a DIY process, any more than filing for divorce is.

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