How to File a Legal Separation in California
The grounds for filing a legal separation in California are the same grounds as divorce actions. Often, filing for legal separation is an alternative to divorce when a breakdown of the marriage has taken place but the parties do not want to obtain a divorce for religious or other personal reasons. One very common reason to seek a legal separation instead of a divorce is to allow the parties to retain eligibility for medical insurance that would otherwise be lost by a termination of the marriage.
Filing for a legal separation in California is similar to any marriage termination proceeding and the California legal separation forms are the same forms as those for a divorce proceeding. The judgment of legal separation resolves all issues of support, custody, visitation, community property rights and community debt under the same standards and in the same manner as if the parties were seeking a judgment of dissolution.
Unlike in a dissolution proceeding, the judgment of legal separation leaves the marriage bonds intact. This means that the parties remain “married” in name only, without the rights and responsibilities that attach to marital status. The parties to a legal separation action cannot enter into a new marriage unless and until the existing marriage is dissolved by death or through a judgment of dissolution. The judgment of legal separation resolves all financial issues between the parties, including determination of their support obligations and a division of their community estate.
After a Judgment of Legal Separation, the parties do not acquire further community property and owe each other no spousal duties of care and support except as was ordered by the court in the Judgment of Legal Separation.
If one party files for a legal separation and the other party responds by requesting a dissolution of marriage, the court may not enter a judgment of legal separation and the case will proceed as a dissolution proceeding. Both parties must consent to the court awarding a legal separation. The only exception is when the respondent does not oppose the request for legal separation, as in a default case. Furthermore, after the entry of a judgment of legal separation, either party may subsequently file an action to dissolve the marriage.