Why File for Legal Separation in California?

This short video offers an overview of why people choose to file a legal separation and not a divorce. This is part 2 of a 3 part video, or, you can watch the entire 3 part series covering annulment, legal separation and divorce in its entirety.

People usually file for legal separation for 1 of 4 reasons: 1) to keep certain marital benefits, 2) for religious purposes, 3) lack of residency or 4) retain option to reconcile.

Difference Between Separation and Divorce

Often people are confused about the differences between a legal separation as compared to a divorce and, what the advantages and disadvantages of both are. So why file for legal separation in California?

First, it is important to understand that the process for a legal separation and the process for a divorce is exactly the same. The only difference is that in the end of a legal separation process, the parties are still legally married. It a couple remains married under the eyes of the law, they are able to keep certain ongoing benefits of being husband and wife. When a couple files for a legal separation, the marriage is still a valid, ongoing marriage and neither party can get remarried. If a party wants or has plans to remarry, filing a legal separation would probably not be a wise choice.

The paperwork and the process for a legal separation is exactly the same as the process for filing a divorce. In a legal separation, the couple will divide all the assets, including retirement and settle property issues; divide community property debt, and handle custody, visitation, child and spousal support issues. All of these matters would be similarly resolved in a divorce proceeding.  In a legal separation, however, when everything is said and done, the parties are still legally married.

Why File for Legal Separation Instead of Divorce?

There are several different reasons why couples choose to file for a legal separation and not a divorce.

Religious Reasons: One reason people file a legal separation for religious reasons because divorce violates their religious principles. Some religions dictate that divorce is not accepted or  allowed. Legal Separation will allow a couple to separate themselves from each other and have some legal protection without filing for divorce. In the eyes of the church, the couple is still legally married, even though they are legally separated.

Keep Options Open: Sometimes a couple files for a legal separation because they just aren’t really sure they want to go through a divorce. Obviously when a couple completes a divorce proceeding and the court terminates the marriage, that’s final and the marriage is legally dissolved. In a legal separation, although you resolve all the issues surrounding the marriage, in the end the parties are still married. If they do decide to later reconcile, they do not have to get remarried.

Lack Residency Requirement: An individual can also file for legal separation in California if they do not meet the residency requirements to file a California divorce. In order to file for divorce in California, you must have lived in California for 6 months and in the county where you are filing for divorce for 3 months. You are able to file a legal separation, however, if you have lived in California for less than 6 months. A person can file for legal separation first, and then convert it to a divorce proceeding once they have met the residency requirement.

Retain Marital Benefits: The most common reason people file a legal separation is because it allows the couple to keep certain benefits of being married that they otherwise would lose if they filed a divorce. The most commonly desired benefit people want to keep in a legal separation is their joint health insurance. If two people go through divorce proceedings, the parties can no longer be on a joint health insurance plan once the divorce is finalized and the marriage has been terminated. In a legal separation, however, one party can still keep the other party on an existing medical insurance policy so that they can continue to receive medical insurance benefits. Often people use the legal separation proceeding for this reason, especially older people who are not planning to get married again. Rather than going through a divorce and having the other party lose insurance benefits, the couple elects to use a legal separation to keep their joint medical insurance benefits.

I have heard that some insurance companies are now trying to prevent couples who have filed a legal separation to keep each other on their insurance policies. I do not know if they have legal standing to make this a problem; however I would assume that if an insurance company was not made aware of the legal separation that it would not become an issue. I think the only time it has ever come up is when it has actually been disclosed to the insurance company and then it became a problem. If you have any questions or concerns about whether you will be able to keep a spouse of a joint insurance policy after a legal separation, you should seek the advice of an attorney. Another option would be to casually inquiry through your insurance carrier.

Professional, Low-Cost Help Filing for Legal Separation

For professional help preparing and filing for legal separation in California, contact A People’s Choice. A People’s Choice has over 35 years of experience helping people successfully navigate the complex legal system of filing for legal separation and can make the process, fast, easy and hassle free. Call us today at 800-747-2780 or visit our website for more information.

Get help with your California legal documents today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your legal documents instead of an expensive attorney!


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By |2018-03-17T18:39:31-07:00June 28th, 2015|Family Law, Videos|12 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Teresa February 3, 2019 at 8:38 am

    I plan on continuing to live with my husband and kids in the same house, but I want to file a legal separation due to protecting my retirement and finances. Will the legal separation be honored?

    • Sandy McCarthy February 4, 2019 at 7:57 pm

      If the paperwork is properly prepared. yes.

  2. Angelica Robles January 31, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    What about child visitation? Is there documentation that can determine a set schedule for Child visitations?

    • Sandy McCarthy February 2, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      There are a variety of variations with regards to child visitation. If you cannot agree between yourselves, the court will set a schedule that neither of you may like!

  3. Timmy January 15, 2019 at 8:18 am

    My wife dropped the bombshell on me this morning she is filing for legal separation (LA County). What’s next? Not sure what I need to even think about.

    • Sandy McCarthy January 17, 2019 at 9:09 am

      I am sorry you are going through a difficult time. I would recommend you reaching out to our office to help with the responsive paperwork once you get served with the documents. You can reach us at 800-747-2780.

  4. Jackeline August 7, 2018 at 10:51 am

    My husband and I have a legal separation agreement in the state of California. But neither one live in California, I leave in Florida and he leave in Nevada, and I filed for divorced in Florida. But the state of Florida doesn’t recognize the legal separation agreement. And now he wants to dismiss my motion and make me comply with his legal separation agreement. Now he leave with his girlfriend as a partnership that’s legal.

    • Sandy McCarthy August 8, 2018 at 6:21 pm

      You may want to consult with a Florida attorney.

  5. michelle July 9, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    so in a legal separation in California any new bad or good credit is the own party responsibility?

    • Sandy McCarthy July 9, 2018 at 6:59 pm

      Not sure I understand your question but when you have a judgment legal separation the two parties are now considered legally separated and their finances are also separated typically. you would have to check what the judgment says.

  6. Roth September 28, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    What about occurring new debt after a legal separation? Will both parties be responsible for the new debt or will the party obtaining the debt be the only one responsible within the state of CA? Also if a legal separation occurs can it be changed to a divorce in the future or will a new petition need to be filed? Thank u.

    • Sandy McCarthy September 30, 2017 at 8:34 am

      A new petition would have to be filed if you have obtained a judgment for legal separation and then later want to file a divorce. A judgment for legal separation separates all financial connections.

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