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Deciding between divorce and legal separation

No one would say divorce is painless, but California’s no-fault divorce law makes it relatively straightforward. No one has to prove that the other spouse did anything wrong. Rather, one party need only petition for divorce by saying the couple have irreconcilable differences. From there, the parties can negotiate a settlement as they resolve issues of property division and child custody in accordance with state law. If they can’t reach an agreement, the court can make these decisions for them.

Still, many people are unhappy in their marriages but do not yet wish to seek a divorce. Some may seek a legal separation.

What is a legal separation?

It may be helpful to define a legal separation by stating what it is not. A legal separation is not simply deciding to take some time away from a spouse or domestic partner. A trial separation is simply an informal agreement between the parties to live apart without dissolving their legal relationship.

By contrast, a legal separation changes the legal relationship between the parties. It requires them to divide their property, and resolve any issues of child custody. In this sense, a legal separation is much like a divorce, but it does not dissolve the marriage or domestic partnership.

Why choose legal separation?

People choose legal separation instead of divorce for a number of reasons. Some have religious objections to divorce. Others have financial or tax reasons for wanting to stay married. Still more are simply not sure they are ready to take the final step to end their marriage. In terms of the legal issues involved, it is easier to rejoin a marriage after a separation than it is after divorce.

Still, legal separation is not easy. There is just as much work involved in property division for separation as there is for divorce. Those who are considering divorce or separation should speak to an experienced family law attorney about their options.