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California Legal Separation Laws

Getting married is a life-altering decision involving shared decision-making in most areas of life, from finances to raising children. Navigating these challenges can be difficult even with the best of planning. Sometimes circumstances change dramatically after getting married where one spouse feels the need for a time-out, but isn't yet ready to end the marriage. This is referred to as a legal separation, which can be permanent or simply precede a divorce, and which has important legal consequences depending on your state.

Legal Separation Process in California

In California, a legal separation doesn't end a marriage or domestic partnership. Instead, it results in a court determining the rights and responsibilities of spouses who want to live apart. While legally separated parties are still married, they have the benefit of enforceable court orders separating their finances or directing the custody and support of any children. They also may be able to retain certain marital benefits such as health or life insurance.

The process to file for legal separation in California is nearly the same as that used for a divorce/dissolution. A spouse must file a petition, pay the filing fee, serve the petition on the other spouse, and file financial disclosures with the court. However, unlike a dissolution, there are no residency requirements for a legal separation.

California Legal Separation Laws At A Glance

The following chart contains the basics of legal separation laws in California, including the basis for legal separation and the procedure to obtain a court order.

  • Family Code Section 2310 (grounds for separation)
  • Family Code Section 2330 (process to initiate separation)
  • Family Code Section 2030 (requests for attorney's fees for a separation)
Grounds for Legal Separation

Legal separation of the parties may be based on either of the following grounds:

  1. Irreconcilable differences, which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage; or
  2. Incurable insanity.
Date of Actual Separation

A couple is not legally separated until the court issues a judgment. However, the date of actual separation can determine the parties' rights and responsibilities especially as it relates to community property. In California, an actual separation occurs where a spouse:

  1. Expresses his or her intent to end the marriage; and
  2. Engages in conduct consistent with an intent to end the marriage (i.e. moves into a separate residence).
Legal Separation Required for Divorce?

No, but California does require a 6 month cooling off period before a divorce order can be entered.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Legal Separation Laws: Related Resources

Have Questions About Legal Separation? Speak to an Attorney

The decision to end a marriage can be difficult, especially when children are involved. Legal separation provides an alternative, allowing spouses to live separate lives while retaining their marriage relationship under the law. This can get complicated, but it may be preferable in some situations. It's best to speak with an experienced family law attorney to learn more about California's legal separation laws and find out if legal separation is a good option for your situation.

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