In everyday conversation, the words “divorce” and “separation” are often used interchangeably. Those who are getting a divorce may tell others that they are separating from their husband or wife. This is a mistake. In California, divorce and separation are two distinct legal terms. In fact, technically speaking, the term used in California is “dissolution.” A divorce legally ends the marriage between two individuals and divides their property, assets, and finances. The process takes a minimum of six months in California. Also, at least one spouse must have lived in California for the preceding six months and the county in which he or she filed for divorce for at least the preceding three months. If this residency requirement is not met, a spouse can file for legal separation immediately-then later file an amended petition for divorce when the residency requirement is met.
Legal separation, by contrast, is not designed to end the status of a marriage. Spouses who have separated cannot legally re-marry. Separation deals with all issues except marital status. Spouses divide their property, make arrangements for child custody, and determine how support payments will be handled. When an agreement has been reached on all of these issues, the spouses are legally separated but they are not divorced. Additional action must be taken in court in order to move from legal separation to divorce status.
Legal separation can also proceed to divorce if one spouse does not agree to it. Without the shared agreement of both spouses, legal separation will automatically become a divorce. This means that spouses who have doubts about their marriage should try to get a sense of their partner’s feelings before taking action. Legal separation allows spouses to lead separate lives, but it must be agreed upon and is not equivalent to divorce. To learn more about divorce and legal separation, fell free to give the professionals at Feinberg & Waller a call.