Going through the process of ending a marriage is not an easy situation to be in personally or financially. Many spouses avoid talking about separating and ignore paperwork after they get served. In California, you have two options for ending a marriage: divorce and legal separation.

What is Legal Separation?

In the state of California, filing for legal separation is almost the same as filing for divorce. A legal separation is where you and your spouse live apart and continue your lives separately while remaining married, different from a divorce that actually ends a marriage. To legally separate in California, there are a number of steps to take.  In order to file for legal separation you must:

Identify Reasoning For the Separation

Just as you would in a divorce, you must identify the reasoning for legal separation in California. According to Sonoma County divorce attorneys at Schoenberg Family Law Group, PC, the only grounds to file for legal separation and divorce include legal incapacity as well as irreconcilable differences.

File Form FL-100

If residency requirements are met, filing FORM FL-100 begins the process of legal separation in California. All legal separations in California deal with the same basic issues including:

  • Child custody
  • Child visitation
  • Child support
  • Property Division
  • Debt Collection
  • Attorney Fees
  • Spousal Support

After completing the form, you must file at your county courthouse and pay the appropriate fee.

Serve Your Spouse the Separation Agreement

Once appropriate documents are filed, a spouse must serve their partner with copies of paperwork. Although in California, you do not have to be the one to serve your spouse directly. A process server, sheriff, friend, or family member over the age of 18 can be the one to serve your spouse.

Although legally separated spouses are still married, court orders enforce the separation of finances and manage the support of children.

No-Fault Divorce State

California was the first state in the United States to provide an option of “no-fault” divorce. Before 1970, a spouse was required to prove that the other had done something wrong. Now California’s no-fault divorce system allows couples to obtain a divorce due to irreconcilable differences or incompatibility.

Residency Requirements to File For Divorce and Legal Separation in California

In order to file for divorce or legal separation in California, you must meet the residency requirements as stated below. Either you or your spouse must have:

  • Lived in California for the last 6 months, AND
  • Lived in the county where you plan on filing the divorce for the last 3 months

If you do not qualify for divorce according to the residency requirements, you are still able to file for legal separation. There is an exception, however, for same-sex married couples who were married in California but do not live in California and live in a state that will not separate a same-sex marriage.

Choosing Between Legal Separation and Divorce

Couples may choose to legally separate for financial and personal reasons. If you are not completely sure that you want the marriage to end, a legal separation can give you the time and space necessary to figure things out personally and financially.

If you are unable to see any financial benefit from legal separation, have no connection with your spouse, or want to get remarried, divorce may be your best option. Otherwise, you may spend valuable time and money getting a legal separation only to have to go through the divorce process again.