When Should You File for a Legal Separation in California?

If you and your spouse have been having marital problems for a while, you may have decided that living apart is the only way to determine your next steps. Once you've decided to physically separate, should you legally separate as well? What can you do to protect your financial investment in your marriage? Read on to learn more about how California handles a legal separation to help you make the best choice for your situation.

What is a legal separation?

A divorce is often legally classified as a "dissolution" of marriage, as by the end of the dissolution it will be as though the marriage never existed. A separation can be compared to "pausing" a marriage -- preparing for divorce proceedings, but leaving open the possibility of reconciliation that would leave you legally married. During a legal separation, you can opt to have a temporary agreement put into place to help you each pay your own living expenses and prepare for maintaining two households and each handling your own assets. For those with children, these agreements can also handle custody matters, helping you adjust to your new schedules and begin paying child support if there is a disparity in your individual incomes.

These separation agreements can be made temporary or be designed to continue until you or your spouse take further action, like withdrawing the separation and reinstating your marriage or filing for divorce.

When is a legal separation worthwhile?

Divorce can be a long and potentially messy process, especially when you're dividing after years spent building assets, taking on debt, and having children. Going straight from marriage to divorce can be acrimonious, particularly if your or your spouse quickly moves on to a new relationship or wants to move out of state. 

By getting the legal framework for divorce in place without any pressure or timeline to dissolve your marriage, you'll be able to focus on the best outcome for you and your children without proceeding toward divorce. If you do later decide that divorce is the best option, you won't need to pay high legal fees to do so -- you'll simply need to make your separation agreement permanent. It's best to seek the advice of an attorney when filing for divorce, but you should be able to keep the cost low if you can show that you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are getting along amicably under the current arrangement (or have agreed on some modifications).

However, keep in mind that the laws concerning legal separation may vary from state to state, so it's best to contact an attorney in your area, such as Karp Law Offices, to determine what to do.