Divorce or Legal Separation: Which is the Right Option for You?

Marriage is a serious commitment between two people that can last a lifetime, but often does not. A separation or divorce doesn’t mean you failed, it simply means both parties are choosing to move on and start new chapters in their lives. But before you turn the page on your marriage, you have options to consider and decisions to make on how you want the rest of the relationship to go.

Ultimately, you have two legal resources: legal separation or divorce. The main difference is in the permanence of your decision. When you separate legally, you can live and act as separate individuals but come back together as a married couple if you so choose. It is less permanent than divorce and can work for some couples. With a divorce, your decision to end the marriage is final and you will be seen as single in the eyes of the court once it is complete. 

Let’s take a look at what each choice means and how it affects you legally as well as personally. 

Legal Separation

What Is A Legal Separation Defined As In California?

Not all states allow legal separations, however California does. Legal separation is a legal process where spouses obtain a legal separation judgment from the family law court. The assessment may include, if applicable, a division of assets and debts, child custody and visitation orders, and an order for support. However, notably, the spouses’ status as married persons remains intact.

Your spouse needs to agree to the separation or at least default after you have served them with your petition. If your spouse does not consent to the legal separation, you may have to file for divorce instead.

Requirements For Legal Separation

To file for legal separation in California, you or your partner must be a legal resident in the state. You must also provide the court with the reason you are choosing to separate. Because California is a “no-fault” state, you actually don’t need to specify a particular reason for filing (re: irreconcilable differences.)

Reasons to Choose Separation Over Divorce

You may choose to opt for legal separation instead of divorce if:

  • You aren’t completely sure about dissolving your marriage but want to live separately.
  • You aren’t completely sure about dissolving your marriage but want to define more clearly financial, parenting and property matters.
  • Your religion prohibits divorce.
  • Your personal views or beliefs rule out divorce as an option.
  • You want to keep the benefits of marriage like health insurance, tax benefits, and/or government benefits (e.g. Social Security.)
  • You have not met the residency requirements to file for divorce yet but want to begin the process of legally separating. 


What Is The Definition Of A Divorce?

A divorce is the dissolution of, and permanent end to your marriage. You will become legally single and will be allowed to remarry if you want after your divorce is finalized. You can choose to litigate or mediate your own divorce, but if you do so, make sure to read about the major differences and benefits to each method. Similar to a legal separation, you must come to an agreement with your spouse or take your divorce to trial before a judge to order how your assets and property will be divided, and any child custody matters are handled. 

Requirements For A Divorce

California has time-based residency restrictions that are important to know before filing for divorce. Either you or your spouse must have lived in California for the last 6 months and the same person who has residency must have lived in the county you are filing in for at least the last 3 months. 

If you or your partner do not meet the residency requirements, you can opt for a legal separation, then file for divorce after the appropriate amount of time has passed to meet those requirements.

Differences Between Divorce And Separation

Legal separation and divorce have quite a few similarities, however, there is a material difference between a legal separation judgment and a divorce judgment. The effect of a dissolution of the marriage ruling means you will be legally divorced and your marital status will go back to “single.” When a judgment of legal separation is entered, you would not be considered to be a single, unmarried person.

No matter how well you get along with your soon-to-be ex, divorces can be long and drawn out, particularly if children or valuable assets are involved. The divorce process contains several other legal matters, such as child custody and support, alimony, and property division, all of which must be determined before the divorce itself can be finalized.

Legal separation can help you deal with various aspects of the divorce process easier, by going at a slower pace and allowing everything to sink in and for you to slowly work with your spouse how your lives will go when your divorce finally goes through. Of course, some couples may choose to stay together and end the separation as well, but it is perfectly normal for divorce to be the next step. 

Compassionate Legal Document Advice for Your Next Chapter

At Valley Divorce Services, our legal professionals provide full-service legal document assistance for litigants who are representing themselves in court. From legal separations/divorce to estate planning, our legal document preparation services offer an affordable option for any legal document advice you may need.

Contact us today for a free consultation and get the help you need in a timely manner by experts who are ready to help.