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Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce in CA?


Unlike many states, California has a process for “legal separation.” Legal separation is similar to divorce but different in key respects. Continue reading to learn how legal separation operates in California, and reach out to a seasoned Claremont divorce and separation attorney for advice and representation in a Southern California family law matter.

What is Legal Separation?

California law allows married couples to obtain a “legal separation.” A legal separation is an official court order granting married parties many of the legal rights and obligations that are typically included in a divorce order, but which does not actually dissolve the marriage. Parties can obtain a legal separation order that splits property rights, assigns obligations for debts, sets child support and spousal support obligations, and assigns custody and parenting time.

The requirements for separation are much the same as for divorce: the parties must be married, at least one party must be a California resident, and the filing spouse must state grounds for the separation (California allows for no-fault divorce, so the grounds need not be fault-based). Unlike divorce, there is no required waiting period.

Advantages to Legal Separation

There are several advantages to obtaining a legal separation instead of divorce. Legal separation preserves the marriage while still allowing the parties to divide assets, apportion properties, and dictate child custody rights. Because the parties are still married, spouses still qualify for the benefits associated with marriage, including joint tax filing and other tax advantages, health insurance coverage, automatic inheritance, and government benefits such as social security.

Separation also allows the parties to have a trial period apart without fully divorcing. They preserve the ability to reconcile and try again without needing to re-marry. Additionally, many couples have religious or moral qualms about divorce. Legal separation allows the parties to remain married for religious observance while still obtaining the benefits of separation.

Advantages to Divorce

Divorce is a full legal dissolution of the marriage. The parties will divide their assets, set legal rights and obligations, and determine child custody and parenting time arrangements. If the parties are certain that the marriage is irreparably broken, divorce may be the better option.

Although divorced parties lose the tax and insurance coverage advantages of remaining married, divorce allows parties to fully separate and move on. Divorced parties are legally single, meaning they can get married to a new partner. Additionally, divorced parties are no longer legally tied to one another–if the marriage ended on a sour note (as is often the case), the parties likely want to disentangle themselves from one another as soon as possible.

Parties may wish to try a trial separation before fully dissolving the marriage. Talk to your family law attorney about your options and create a plan that is best for you and your family.

Call a dedicated California family law attorney at Blasser Law for help with divorce, legal separation, a child custody dispute, or another California family law matter. The experienced and effective Claremont divorce legal team at Blasser Law is ready to assist clients with any family law concerns in the San Gabriel Valley or Los Angeles County. Contact our family law office at 877-927-2181.

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