Many men think of separation and divorce as two events in the same process, but they are actually very different things. There are different requirements in California for filing for legal separation and divorce, and the two processes, while having some common goals, usually have a different outcome for the partners involved.
Legal Separation vs. Divorce in California
California divorce law is structured with the idea that at the end of the process a marriage will be irrevocably dissolved. The two partners might eventually remarry, but for all intents and purposes, a legal divorce in California means the end of marital rights and responsiblities. The two partners are free to remarry, move, or do whatever they like as long as they abide by the terms of the divorce agreement or the court order.
In order to file for divorce in California, one must meet certain requirements. For example, you must have been married under the laws of the State of California or some other state. You must also have lived in California for a certain period of time. This time period may be changed by legislative action; currently, one of the partners of the marriage must have resided in California for a minimum of six months and in the county in which the divorce is filed for at least three months.
Legal separation, on the other hand, has different requirements and different goals. The purpose of a legal separation is not to end a marriage; in fact, even if you have been legally separated for years, you will still have to file a divorce petition in order to terminate the marriage. Legal separation means that you and your spouse are under a court order on how to divide property, deal with child custody and support issues and resolve other matters, but you are still married. In fact, many couples choose legal separation over divorce if they do not want to go through a divorce process for religious or other personal reasons. Legal separation allows you to settle your differences and live apart without actually being divorced.
There is no residency requirement for legal separation. If you choose, you could file for a legal separation the day after you arrive in California. For this reason, many couples choose legal separation when they have not lived in California long enough to file for divorce. They may then later file for a formal dissolution of marriage.
If you have questions about whether a legal separation or a divorce would be beneficial in your case, contact the Men’s Legal Center for more information.