Making the decision between filing for a legal separation or for filing for a divorce can be challenging. Here is a quick reference to some of the major differences and similarities.

Understanding the Distinctions Between Filing For a Legal Separation and Filing For a Divorce

When filing for either a legal separation or a divorce, it is important to know that both have very similar processes, timelines and costs, but the end result in a divorce is the termination of a marriage. There is a date of separation between the parties in both procedures, which affects how property and finances will be divided. Once a divorce or legal separation has been initiated, a court can order any and or all of the following:

  • Child support,
  • Child custody & visitation,
  • A division of marital assets and/or debts, and
  • Spousal support.

Whether you decide to get a legal separation or a divorce, you should know that both arrangements create a legal division. This important division creates financial regulations and boundaries both parties are required to abide by. The orders made in both cases are fully enforceable by the court.


The most significant difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that when filing for a divorce, your marriage would be ordered terminated. You are returned to single status as you are no longer legally bound to one another and you thereby have the freedom to remarry. There is a 6 month waiting period for this single status in California typically starting from the date the petition is served on the other party, however, the case can be dismissed before that final status date. With a separation, once the Judge signs the judgment and it filed, the process is complete.

 Legal Separation

If you decide to legally separate from your spouse, there still exists a legal relationship. You will continue to be legally married and not free to remarry. Under a legal separation, you can remain on health insurance in most cases. An important note with legal separations is that once it is completed through the court, if a divorce is later pursued it will be handled as its own case. This would be a new filing and case number at the family law court. While orders from the legal separation case can be incorporated, it will be a unique and separate case with new and separate court costs.

 Reasons Why Individuals May Choose to Obtain a Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce

The residency requirement is different in both cases. The Petitioner must live in California for 6 months and the county where the petition is filed for at least 3 months to file for divorce. There is no minimum requirement when filing for a legal separation. Some individuals may have personal or religious beliefs that do not allow him or her to get a divorce. Obtaining a legal separation instead of a divorce allows the couple to remain legally married without legally binding finances.

Further, obtaining a legal separation allows both parties to continue to have some marital benefits such as insurance benefits depending on the nature of the case.

It is important to know that if you have mutually chosen to file for a legal separation, this process is often reversible. Also if before receiving a judgment for legal separation you decide to proceed with a divorce, the case can be amended. You will save new costs.

If you are considering either a legal separation or divorce a bonded and registered legal document assistant can help. In California legal document assistants are authorized to help people prepare and file court documents for both legal separation and divorce. They understand the procedures and restrictions to make the process more efficient and easier.    If you are in the process of starting a legal separation or divorce, you can consider talking to a legal document assistant to see how they can help you. You can learn about our divorce and legal separation service.