The primary difference between a legal separation and a divorce is one puts an end to your marriage, while the other doesn’t. Both arrangements help you begin to live a life apart from your spouse.

What Does a Legal Separation Entail?

A legal separation is when you obtain an official legal separation judgment from a family court. The paperwork and filing are almost identical to a divorce, but you would opt for a legal separation instead of divorce on your petition. The status of legally separated and the agreements made while obtaining it are infinitely more binding and orderly than verbal agreements to separate, or taking time physically apart.

During a legal separation proceeding, the parties will decide issues such as division of property, spousal support, child support, custody, etc. At the end of the proceedings, when the parties or judge have come to a decision about the various matters, the court issue orders decreeing the couple legally separated.

Why Choose a Legal Separation?

A legal separation can be preferred for many reasons, but the most common ones are timeliness, religion, and financial concerns.

A legal separation can be obtained immediately, whereas a divorce requires a six-month waiting time before it is final. Also, California has residency requirements for divorce. One has to live in the state for six months before filing for divorce. However, a petition for legal separation has no such restriction. Having a legal separation beforehand can also speed up the divorce process.

For many, their religion forbids divorce, and/or they may have the intent to end the separation after time for either spouse to make necessary changes. With a legal separation, spouses can remain married but have their support and custody issues officially decided by the court. This allows them to live apart with less contention over various issues that arise.

Financial concerns are also a common reason to opt for legal separation. Some spouses wish to remain married longer to qualify for certain medical or social security benefits the other spouse provides. There may also be a tax benefit for the couple to remain married. One spouse may be trying to re-enter the workforce after a long period of not working or may be having some financial difficulties. A legal separation allows the other spouse to help support them during this time until they are financially ready.

What Does a Divorce Entail?

A divorce is almost identical to a legal separation in the proceedings, but at the end of the process, the parties are no longer married.

Why Choose a Divorce?

One of the biggest reasons to choose divorce is the hope for remarriage. While legally separated, the couple is still considered legally married, and either party cannot enter into marriage with another person.

A divorce also gives greater financial independence, apart from a child or spousal support. When divorced, you are no longer accruing marital assets, and your spouse does not have any further access to some financial or government benefits.

If separation offers no benefits personally or financially, it’s a better financial decision to move straight into divorce proceedings instead of paying for similar services twice.

If You Have More Questions, We Can Help

If you want further assistance understanding the nuances of legal separation versus a divorce, or would like to begin the process for either, we can help. Contact us at 714.456.9118 or send us an email at

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