Couples in California who are struggling in their marriage have the option to seek a legal separation if they are not sure they want to proceed with a divorce. While couples can informally separate, a legal separation establishes legal responsibilities and boundaries, including those related to child custody, financial support and division of assets.
How does a legal separation work?
A legal separation is an agreement approved by a court that establishes that a couple will live and function separately while remaining legally married. The couple files a petition with the court that includes any financial arrangement they have made about division of assets and debts, spousal and child support and child custody and parenting plans. The petition should be as clear as possible stating the date of separation and each spouse’s new address and the spouses’ new roles clearly defined. A judge then reviews the documents and issues a court order for a legal separation.
Why do couples choose legal separation?
Couples have a lot of reasons for choosing legal separation over a divorce when their marriage is struggling. For some, a legal separation is the precursor to a divorce. For others, there might be interests, benefits and beliefs that make this choice the better option. These include:
- A desire to continue working towards a reconciliation
- A way to help the couple’s children deal with the idea that their parent’s marriage has ended
- A religious belief that prohibits divorce
- A decision to reach a certain length of time in the marriage to ensure that health and other spousal benefits, such as social security, are secured
Legal separation can also be less costly and take less time to for the completed process than divorce. For some spouses, this is also a consideration.