Sometimes when a couple decides their marriage is over, they may not be ready to take the final step and seek a divorce. This may be because of religious or social reasons. In these situations, a couple may petition a court for a legal separation. A legal separation may be considered a step closer to divorce, but is not a complete termination of the marital relationship. Spouses that have legally separated cannot marry other people before obtaining a divorce. If you are contemplating how to become legally separated in California, the first thing to understand is that the grounds for legal separation are the same as those required for a divorce; that is, irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity. However, unlike in a divorce, you do not need to satisfy the six-month California residency requirement in order to apply for legal separation.

How to Become Legally Separated in California – The Filing Process

The filing process for legal separation is generally the same as that of filing for divorce. To become legally separated in California, you must start the process by filling out some standard forms and checking a box to show you are filing for legal separation. In addition to this, you will need to file declarations declaring what property you and your spouse own, as well as the debts of the marriage. If you have children, there is more paperwork to be filed to help the judge address custody and resolve child support issues. The forms are the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and an optional Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment. After the above forms are filed out, you have to file them with the court, pay the required fee, prepare a summons and have your spouse served with copies of all the paperwork. The summons serves as notice to your spouse that you have started a case asking for legal separation, and outlines the consequences if he or she does not respond within 30 days.

Responding to a Legal Separation Filing By Your Spouse

If you have been served paperwork informing you that your spouse is seeking legal separation, you can choose to either ignore the summons, or respond by filing an answer to your spouse’s petition. Your permission is not really required to proceed; the court may go ahead even if you ignore the paperwork. If you do not have an agreement in place with your spouse, the judge would simply grant a default judgment allowing the separation.

Completing the Legal Separation

You can also work with your spouse before the filing and work out an agreement, perhaps through a mediator. This will help you pinpoint contentious issues, such as, the disposition of property and division of debts. This is a good approach because you have some control over how you divide your property. If you cannot agree with your spouse on these matters, then the judge would have to make the decision. If at all possible, it is better and probably cheaper to come to an agreement out of court. The forms described above are the standard forms required in California courts and only start the proceedings, however, the county in which you file your action may have local rules and other forms in addition to the standard forms. It is best to contact the clerk’s office in your county to confirm that you are completing the correct paperwork. There are other steps and documentation that will be required by the court to ultimately complete the proceedings. If you want to become legally separated in California and need help completing the forms by experienced legal document preparers, please contact A People’s Choice for non-attorney help.

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