What’s the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?


In California, there are two primary ways to separate your finances and provide for child custody and visitation, as well as child spousal support. These are known as Legal Separation and Dissolution of Marriage (also known as divorce).

What’s the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

Details of Legal Separation

In a legal separation case, a final judgment does not end your marriage. You remain married to your spouse even though you may have divided everything and have been physically separated for an extended period of time.  You must continue to file taxes as a married person.  You do not have to terminate health insurance coverage if legally separated.  If you later want to end your marriage, you will need to file a new divorce case and go through the process that is required there.

One significant difference between legal separation and divorce is that in the former there is no residency requirement to file the case. In fact, the parties do not even need to reside in California to file a legal separation case, though doing so under these circumstances is rare.

Details of Divorce

In a divorce case, there is a basic residency requirement that must be met before filing in court. This means that one or both parties must have been a resident in California for at least six months and a resident in the particular county you want to file in for 90 days. 

After the divorce paperwork is filed and served on the opposing party, you must wait a minimum of six months before a judgment of divorce can be granted. This doesn’t mean you can’t do all the paperwork and get to an agreement sooner than six months, it just means you cannot remarry until the final judgment has been filed.

What you do not need to prove in a divorce is a reason why you want the marriage to end. California is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning all you have to establish with the court is that you have “irreconcilable differences” such that you cannot continue in the marriage. The court will never ask what those differences are.

After a divorce judgment is final, your marital status will be terminated and you will be free to remarry and file your taxes as a single person. 

If you need help deciphering whether to obtain a legal separation or file for dissolution of marriage, JWB Family Law is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free 30-minute consultation and get the peace-of-mind you need to move forward.

The Importance of the CFLS Designation

A Certified Family Law Specialist, or CFLS, is an attorney who has obtained certification in the standards of California family law and demonstrated optimal legal competence. Attorneys who obtain this certification have specific expertise in all aspects of family law, which includes divorce or the dissolution of marriagechild and spousal support, child custody, and temporary restraining orders, among other areas of emphasis.

Not every attorney practicing family law has obtained this certification. In fact, the designation remains relatively rare—there are fewer than 2,000 CFLS attorneys in California and fewer than 200 in San Diego.

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