You may have heard of other couples who are “separated,” but not divorced.  You may have also considered a “trial separation” in your own marriage.  However, the exact definition of separation may surprise people, and it is important to understand what exactly separation is before you pursue legal separation.  The Ventura, CA divorce lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain what legal separation is and how it’s different from divorce in California.

What Does Legal Separation Do?

When a couple gets divorced, they end their marriage, they split up their assets, they move out, and they become single again.  Legal separation is a sort of halfway point between marriage and divorce.

Legal separation is when a couple decides to start living separately and dividing up their finances.  Separation overlaps with divorce in many areas, but it does have slightly different legal effects.  Legal separation has four main effects:

Living Apart

Couples going through legal separations typically more apart.  This can mean that one spouse stays in the marital home and the other one moves out or that the parties sell their house and each take-up residence somewhere else.  If they have kids, it may be better for the kids to have continuity by staying in the same house.

Dividing Assets and Finances

When you get divorced, you and your spouse will stop sharing assets.  This makes you two financially independent people again.  It also means that you need to divvy up the property you own.  When you get separated, you also split your finances.  If you are using separation as a stepping stone toward divorce, this means you will already have the property division finished by the time you get divorced.

Child Custody and Support

If you and your spouse have children when you file for legal separation, you will need to have a court decide child custody and support questions.  Since you and your spouse will be living in separate houses, you will need to divide parenting time and set up child support to ensure your children are cared for and you properly share the burdens of parenting.  The court can issue court orders for custody and support to help set these rules and give you pathways to enforcing your parental rights and support needs.

Spousal Support/Alimony

Since you and your spouse are financially independent, either spouse may need help supporting themselves.  You and your spouse will still be married, but the legal obligation to share your money ends with separation.  Instead, you may ask a court to order spousal support (a.k.a. “alimony”) to help pay for housing, groceries, medical bills, and other needs.

Problems with Legal Separation in California

Legal separation has some drawbacks and limitations.  First, unlike divorce, legal separation leaves you legally married.  This means that you cannot get remarried during separation and you cannot file your taxes as “single” (however, you can use “married filing separately”).

For many couples, this is fine.  Some couples do not want to actually be divorced, and they can use legal separation as a final outcome in their marriage so that they can live apart but still remain married.

Many other couples use legal separation as an intermediate step.  Some couples use trial separations to see if they want a full divorce.  These couples can always end their separation and get back together without needing to remarry.  Alternatively, if they want to proceed with the divorce, they can amend their petition with the court and file for divorce.  Other couples using separation as an intermediate step can also amend their petition and turn a separation into a full divorce by going back to court.

Couples might decide not to get divorced right away if they have some reason to remain married.  For instance, couples that share health insurance may need to stay on their spouse’s insurance or a couple may want to remain married until their kids grow up, even if they become separated in the meantime.  Others may never want to end the marriage entirely if they do not believe in divorce for religious reasons, and they can use separation as the final disposition.

How to File for Legal Separation in California

Many aspects of legal separation require a court to step in.  If you want to file for legal separation, the process is very similar to divorce: you file forms with the court, notify your spouse, and have the court finalize the separation.  An attorney can help you with this process.

If you are seeking separation because of domestic abuse, you may need to take immediate steps instead of waiting.  A court can issue a temporary restraining order to kick your spouse out of the house temporarily, and you can file for separation or divorce after you are safe in your home.

Legal separation is not the only option.  Many couples opt for informal or temporary separations.  This may occur if you go to live with your parents or friends for a few days after a fight or another incident.  These kinds of separations do not need to be filed with a court, but if you expect the separation to become long-term or you are moving out, you should talk to a lawyer about how the informal separation will affect your finances, child custody rights, and other aspects of your life.

Call Our Ventura, CA Legal Separation Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you are considering getting separated from your spouse or want to use legal separation as a step toward divorce, call the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.  Our Ventura family law attorneys can help you decide whether legal separation or divorce is right for you and how to proceed with filing your case and achieving legal separation.  For help with your case, contact our law offices today to schedule a free legal consult.  Our number is (805) 643-5555.