For everyone who either doesn’t want to go through with a divorce, or wants to take a substantial amount of time off from their marriage, legal separation is an option. In a legal separation, both spouses are able to live separately but remain married; meanwhile, a court order organizes both spouses’ rights and responsibilities. Couples who choose to become legally separated do so in order to protect their assets until they make the final decision to divorce. It is very similar to the process of divorce because the couple may settle issues such as a division of assets and debts, child custody and child support, spousal support and visitation schedules. Typically these agreements are continued in the divorce agreement.
Couples will choose legal separation over divorce for many reasons. In some cases, they aren’t sure they want to divorce just yet and they take time living apart to see if it’s what they want. In others, they will remain legally married to take advantage of benefits only available via marriage, such as medical benefits or social security benefits.
If you think you’re ready to file for legal separation, first you must meet your state’s residency requirements, which are the same for legal separation and divorce. This typically boils down to having lived for a certain amount of time in the state you wish to file for divorce in. Second, you file a petition for divorce with the court; usually an attorney helps you do this, but you may also file via the court clerk or online resources.
The third step is done simultaneously with the second; when you file a petition with the court for legal separation you must also file an agreement. It is important to note that this agreement, like a divorce, is legally binding, and again, many times a judge will carry over the agreements of the legal separation into the divorce. So don’t agree to anything in a legal separation that you’re not okay with in a divorce.
If you and your spouse don’t decide to file jointly, i.e., if you are filing by yourself without your spouse’s support, make sure you alot for time for your spouse to get served. You may want to prepare yourself for additional time, depending on whether or not your spouse will choose to file a counter-petition to your petition for legal separation. If your spouse immediately agrees to all provisions of the agreement, you will then both notarize the documents and wait for the judge to review and sign your case records. If the judge approves, the files will be kept with your local county clerk. Make sure you each have a copy for your own records. Here are some frequently asked questions in California legal separation cases.
It can take a while to complete a legal separation, especially if your spouse is initially against it. Make sure you give yourself the proper amount of time. As with divorce, an experience lawyer helping you through the process can greatly speed things up and make everything easier.