Here in California, married couples who are prepared to end a marriage may choose from several legal alternatives. Their options include a divorce trial, mediation, arbitration, “collaborative” divorce, annulment, and legal separation.

If you are dissolving your marriage, which of these options is best for you? Many people who are ending a marriage automatically choose divorce, but the legal separation option should be seriously considered.

How does legal separation work in California, and how does it differ from annulment or divorce? Can a divorce lawyer in Cerritos help?

EXACTLY WHAT IS LEGAL SEPARATION?

Legal separation and divorce have many similarities but also several important distinctions. Legal separation is not divorce, but for many California couples, it provides a practical alternative to divorce.

Legally separated spouses are still legally married, but in most ways, they live as if they’re divorced. They don’t share a residence, and if they’re parents, they’ll need to reach an agreement – or have an agreement imposed by the court – regarding custody, visitations, and child support.

WHY DO COUPLES CHOOSE LEGAL SEPARATION?

Not all couples who legally separate end up divorcing. A legal separation gives the spouses an opportunity to re-examine their marital situation before either spouse makes a final decision to divorce. Some separated couples are able to reconcile their differences and save their marriages.

Some couples choose to separate legally rather than seek an annulment or a divorce because their religious values prevent divorce. Some choose legal separation to hang onto benefits that might be lost in a divorce.

Still, others look at a legal separation as a sort of “trial” divorce – separating to find out “what it’s like” before permanently dissolving the marriage.

When a married couple no longer wants to live together, but one or both spouses cannot or will not divorce, or if a spouse simply is not ready for divorce, legal separation may offer the best legal remedy.

WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A LEGAL SEPARATION?

Simply living apart from one another does not create what California calls a “legal separation.” Spouses must file papers with the court, and they will need some help from an experienced Cerritos family law attorney.

Although at least one spouse must be a California resident for at least six months in order to file for a divorce, there is no such requirement for a legal separation in this state.

If you have not resided in California for a full six months – that is, you are a new resident – you may be able to get around the six-month residency rule for divorce by filing for a legal separation first.

If you are new in this state, you can sometimes speed up the divorce process if you file first for legal separation. California lets legally separated spouses “convert” a separation into a divorce as soon as the legal separation process is finalized.

DO MOST LEGALLY SEPARATED COUPLES RECONCILE OR DIVORCE?

Eventually, partners who legally separate either reconcile or divorce. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that fourteen percent of the couples who legally separate eventually reconcile. The truth is, for most couples who choose it, legal separation is a prelude to divorce.

In California, both partners must consent to a legal separation. If the partner being served with legal separation papers objects to a legal separation, the other partner may have to seek a divorce or remain in the marriage.

The paperwork a legal separation is just as burdensome and complicated as the paperwork for a California divorce. In both procedures, a couple can voluntarily resolve questions like spousal support and child custody, or a court will make and impose those decisions with a court order.

WHAT CAN HAPPEN IN COURT DURING THE LEGAL SEPARATION PROCESS?

In a legal separation, a California judge may issue orders for child custody, child support, and/or spousal support (alimony). Additionally, in a legal separation, one partner may remain as a beneficiary of the other partner’s life insurance.

However, a spouse in a legal separation may or may not be covered by the other spouse’s health insurance plan. It depends on the policy, so you may want to review your health insurance policy before taking any legal action.

In both legal separations and divorces, a couple can save time and money – and avoid inconvenience and acrimony – by finding as much common ground as possible before initiating a divorce or a legal separation.

HOW CAN A TOP FAMILY LAW FIRM HELP YOU?

What does it take to obtain a legal separation? The first and most important step is contacting an experienced Cerritos family law attorney. A good attorney’s advice, insights, and guidance is imperative if you are seeking a legal separation or a divorce in Southern California.

A good family lawyer will help you with the extensive legal paperwork required for a legal separation. If you are a parent, there is additional paperwork. There is also a filing fee, but anyone with a low income or receiving public benefits can request a fee waiver.

Before you make a final decision about dissolving your marriage, it is a good idea to seek out some advice. If there’s a close friend you trust and you routinely confide in one another, talk with that person.

Do you belong to a faith community? It may offer counseling that’s just right for you. Counseling resources are abundant across the state in both the private and public sectors.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSULT A DIVORCE ATTORNEY?

While a legal separation isn’t a divorce, there may still be important issues to resolve. Which partner will pay for what? What happens to the family home? If the spouses are parents, which parent will have custody and make the important decisions about education and healthcare.

In most cases, a reliable, experienced family law attorney can help you – or both of you – resolve these questions and obtain a legal separation or a divorce. If you are considering – or anticipating – a divorce, speak to a good family law attorney at once about all of your options.

When a marriage ends, you must protect your interests and your future. Make the call to a family law attorney and get the sound legal advice you need before any legal separation or divorce procedure even begins. Your future will depend on it.