In the state of California, marital partners who are seeking to dissolve their marriage can choose from a variety of legal options. The alternatives are a “conventional” divorce trial, arbitration, mediation, “collaborative” divorce, legal separation, and annulment. Before you choose to divorce in this state, legal separation is an option that you should thoroughly consider. Here in California, legal separation differs in several ways from an annulment or a conventional divorce.

However, a legal separation can provide marriage partners with some breathing space and some time to reappraise their marital circumstances. In a legal separation, marriage partners remain legally married, but they do not live in the same residence.

Partners with children must arrange for child support payments and visitations. You can learn more about the option of legal separation in California – and about whether legal separation may be right for you – by discussing your own situation with an experienced Long Beach family law attorney.

Simply living separately from one’s spouse does not establish a “legal” separation in California. Marriage partners must file court papers to obtain a legal separation. What leads couples to choose legal separation rather than divorce?

Separation is a practical choice for partners with religious principles that forbid divorce. Others choose separation to retain benefits they might forfeit by divorcing. In California, there is one additional advantage to a legal separation. If you are new in this state, you can sometimes expedite the divorce procedure if you file first for legal separation.

HOW IS A LEGAL SEPARATION “CONVERTED” INTO A DIVORCE?

How does that work? Although a marital partner must reside in California for six months before that partner can file for divorce, there is no residency requirement for obtaining a legal separation. The law in California allows marriage partners to “convert” a legal separation into a divorce when the separation has been finalized – or at any time during the process. Either partner can submit a request for conversion.

Thus, if a spouse needs to divorce quickly, but that spouse has not yet established residency in California, the spouse can file immediately for separation, and when the six months for the residency requirement have passed, the spouse can then immediately convert the legal separation to a legal divorce.

A legal separation, of course, is never the last word in a marriage; over time, the partners either must reconcile or begin the divorce process. And the Census Bureau reports that fourteen percent of married couples who choose legal separation later reunite.

For those who are not using legal separation as a way to deal with California’s residency requirement for divorce, there is no tangible, quantifiable legal benefit to legal separation, apart from having some private time to think things out.

Generally speaking, separation is for marriages that have deteriorated to where the partners no longer want to live together, but for whatever reason, one partner or both cannot divorce or are not yet ready to divorce.

Legal separation in California requires the consent of both marriage partners, although a spouse served with a petition for legal separation may refuse to take part in the process but may still allow it to proceed without objection. If the spouse who is served with a petition for legal separation objects to the separation, the filing spouse may have no choice but to continue the marriage or to file for divorce.

IN WHAT WAYS IS LEGAL SEPARATION COMPARABLE TO DIVORCE?

Petitioning for legal separation in California is just as complicated as filing for divorce. This is a no-fault divorce state where a divorce and a legal separation require identical legal grounds – either “irreconcilable differences” or one spouse’s incurable insanity.

The two actions are almost identical, from serving the divorce or separation petition to the full disclosure of both partners’ finances. In legal separations as well as divorces, the partners can personally resolve any disputed issues in the marriage, or a court can make those decisions when the partners cannot reach agreements.

One provision in California family law allows very few marriages to qualify for what the law calls “summary” divorce, which is a much simpler procedure – and usually much less costly – than either legal separation or conventional divorce. However, only marriages of five years or less with no children, no real estate, and limited assets are eligible for the summary divorce process.

WHAT DOES A LEGAL SEPARATION DECREE ADDRESS?

A legal separation decree issued by a California court deals with the same questions as a divorce decree. Both types of decrees divide and distribute the joint marital property. Both types of decrees also spell out the arrangements for spousal support, if any, and if children are involved, both types of decrees specify the precise arrangements for child custody, child support, and visitation.

Both types of decrees are legally binding. The main difference is that legal separation doesn’t dissolve a marriage. In a legal separation, one spouse can remain covered by the other’s health insurance, for example, and neither spouse can marry someone else.

In both divorces and separations, the spouses can reduce their time, expenses, and anxieties by reaching agreements on as many topics as they can before they formally initiate legal separation or divorce proceedings. Having the insights and advice of an experienced Long Beach family law attorney is imperative for anyone who is seeking a legal separation or a divorce in southern California.

In summary, these are the steps that you must take to obtain a legal separation in the state of California:

– Determine the grounds for your legal separation: irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity.

– Complete Form FL-100 and submit it to your county court. The form includes options for both divorce and legal separation. A family law attorney can help you complete the form.

– If you have children under age 18, complete and submit Form FL-105/GC-120. A family law attorney can help you complete this form too.

– Pay the filing fee. Those with low incomes and those receiving public benefits may qualify for a waiver of the fee.

– Have your spouse “served” with the court papers.

Finally, if you are considering a separation or a divorce in Long Beach or anywhere in Orange County, Los Angeles County, or elsewhere in Southern California, obtain the reliable legal advice you need, and arrange to meet with an experienced Long Beach family law attorney.