Divorce vs. Legal Separation: Which Is Right for Me?

Nobody says “I do” with the intention of splitting up, but the reality is that many couples separate and divorce every year. In California, couples have the option of filing for a divorce or getting a legal separation. These two options both result in the couple living separately with distinct legal agreements but are otherwise very different arrangements.

Should I File for Divorce or for Legal Separation?

If you’re not sure which to pursue – divorce or legal separation – you’ll want to take the time to educate yourself on your options, to weigh your priorities, and to carefully consider what you want moving forward.

Below, we’ve outlined when to choose legal separation and when to choose divorce.

When to Choose Legal Separation

Legal separation is essentially a less-permanent alternative to divorce. When you and your spouse are legally separated, you are still married. That means you’ll still enjoy the benefits of legal marriage but live separately.

You should consider filing for a legal separation if:

  • You are not completely sure you want to permanently divorce
  • You want a “trial period” to see if divorce will ultimately be the right choice
  • You want to maintain the tax and insurance benefits of marriage
  • You cannot file for divorce because you don’t meet residency requirements
  • Divorce violates your religious beliefs
  • You do not currently have the time or resources needed to devote to divorce

How to Get a Legal Separation

If you want a legal separation, your spouse will have to agree to it or default after being served with your petition. If your spouse refuses to consent to the legal separation, divorce might be your only option.

If you can proceed with the legal separation, you will have to negotiate a few key decisions, just as you would in a divorce. Once you have reached an agreement on the factors relevant to your situation – which may include child custody and child supportproperty division, and alimony – the court will review and implement a court order detailing your rights and responsibilities moving forward.

When to Choose Divorce

A divorce permanently terminates your marriage. In the divorce process, you and your spouse will have to work through all the same decisions as in a legal separation: child custody, child support, alimony, and property division.

You should consider filing for divorce if:

  • You wish to eventually get remarried
  • You feel confident that you want to permanently end the marriage
  • You want a financial split from your spouse (aside from child and spousal support obligations)
  • You want to avoid spending money on a legal separation only to then file for divorce

How to Get a Divorce

Filing for divorce is much like filing for legal separation, though the process can be considerably longer if you and your spouse disagree on the terms of your divorce. The process starts by filing a petition and serving your spouse with divorce papers. Once everything is underway, you’ll have to start working through tough decisions.

You and your spouse reserve the right to make decisions about your divorce on your own through negotiation, mediation, and other dispute resolution methods. If you cannot reach an agreement this way, your case will go to court where a family law judge will decide. Once you are divorced, you will be expected to abide by the court order that you agreed on or that the judge decided.

Seek Counsel from Cianci Law, PC

If your relationship is on the rocks, it might be time to consider dissolving it. Our family lawyers at Cianci Law, PC are here to help you through the emotional process. We can assess your situation and help you decide whether legal separation or divorce is the right choice for you. From there, we’ll be there to help you move forward every step of the way.

To get started on your case, contact us at (916) 797-1575.

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