Legal Separation vs. Divorce in California

Separating couple in San Diego, CA

When you’re feeling ready to move on with your life, but there may be a sliver of a chance your marriage might work, what are your options?

Fortunately, if you’re not ready to take the leap into divorce right away, you can still take a break from your spouse by taking advantage of legal separation in California. Working with a legal separation attorney to help you navigate and understand this process is key.

Legal Separation vs Divorce in California

Legal separation operates similarly to divorce when it comes to filing the petition. That’s because in both situations, you will file your petition in your local court of family law. In addition, you will have to tackle the same types of issues in both situations. These issues include child support and alimony, which are considered to be separation maintenance, as well as property division, child visitation, and child custody.

However, when you compare legal separation vs divorce in California, it is also critical that you understand the core difference between the two. 

With legal separation, people don’t terminate their marital statuses. Meanwhile, divorce does involve ending your marriage.

Reasons to Choose Legal Separation

Securing a legal judgment of separation from your local court is a wise option in a few situations:

  • You may prefer legal separation if you believe that reconciliation is possible between you and your spouse in the future. If you do end up reconciling with your partner after your separation, you won’t have to remarry,
  • Another reason to seek a legal separation vs. divorce in California is if your residency restrictions bar divorce. 
  • You might also want to choose separation over divorce for religious reasons.

Before you can file for separation, both you and the other party will have to determine your grounds for your separation, whether it’s irreconcilable differences or other acceptable grounds that your attorney can help you work through. 

You’ll need to submit information regarding your shared property and children. Note that you may ask the court to make a child custody decision for you and the other party.

Keep in mind, though, that during separation, you might face beneficiary designation and tax issues when dealing with several types of financial accounts. These accounts include those for the following:

  • Life insurance
  • Deferred compensation
  • Retirement savings
  • Pensions
  • IRAs
  • 401(k)s

A legal separation attorney can help you to determine how best to address these accounts during the separation process.


Filing for divorce is appropriate if you and your spouse do not believe that your marriage can be salvaged. Through divorce, you can move on with your own lives and legally remarry if you choose to once your divorce is finalized, as your marriage will officially be dissolved.

During this type of proceeding, either you or your spouse must serve the petition on the other person. The recipient of the petition then has a total of 30 days to submit a response. 

Note that you can request for a judge to create temporary spousal support or child custody orders. Then, with an attorney’s help, you can meet with the other party to discuss a divorce settlement and create a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Seek Help from an Experienced Family Law Attorney in California Today

Are you trying to decide between legal separation vs. divorce in California? As a San Diego divorce and legal separation attorney serving clients throughout California, I can help you make an educated decision based on your unique situation. 

I am passionate about guiding people who are considering divorce or other legal action but are afraid of the consequences of the decisions they make. I am also adept at working with clients who don’t know enough about divorce or legal separation to take action on their own. 

Contact me for a free legal consultation on how to proceed with a legal separation or divorce in California. No matter which option you choose, I’ll make sure that your rights and best interests are protected in the months ahead.

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.