Written by attorney Erik Wayland Newton

California Legal Separation - The Purpose and Benefits

Legal Separation Overview

Divorce isn’t for everyone - sometimes for religious or other personal reasons, the status of “legal separation" is a better alternative to a divorce. Legal separation in California is very similar to a divorce: parties divide assets and address financial issues as in a divorce; they structure child custody and child support just as in a divorce, and most parties live apart, just as in a divorce. The difference is primarily in the title - the resulting status is called “legal separation," instead of “divorce."

Potential Benefits

Some couples enter into legal separation because of their religious convictions. Because a legal separation is not technically a divorce, the status allows these people to maintain integrity with a particular faith.

Another common reason is the maintenance of medical insurance. For instance, one party may have a chronic illness that prevents him or her from obtaining adequate health insurance. A legal separation can in some circumstances allow the parties to continue with coverage under the other spouse’s plan. Some insurance carriers do not allow legal separation to qualify for continued coverage, so you should check with an experienced California Family Lawyer ( before proceeding on these grounds.


Because the parties in a legal separation technically remain “married," they may not enter into a new marriage unless the first marriage ends either by death or an actual divorce.

Also, unlike divorce, a judgment for legal separation requires the consent of both parties. If one party wants a legal separation, and the other party wants a divorce, the divorce will prevail. The implication is that either party may proceed with an actual divorce at any time, and this could cause the workload to double.


A legal separation is obtained similarly to a divorce. One party must file with a California Family Court for legal separation, all the proper paperwork and financial disclosures must be exchanged, and the Judgment must be granted by the Court. This requires nearly all the same legal proceedings and due process as a full blown divorce.

“Separation" is different from “Legal Separation"

Finally, you should note this important distinction. “Legal separation" and “Separation" are not the same thing. Legal separation refers to the quasi divorce status described above. “Separation" is the date that you and your spouse start living apart with the intention to be divorced. The date of separation is very important in California divorces, and is beyond the scope of this guide.

If you have any questions about separation of legal separation, please feel free to give us a call. We handle divorce cases every day, and we’re happy to answer questions. We can be reached at 415-398-1290, or [email protected] (mailto:[email protected]).

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