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Divorce vs. Legal Separation

Shelly Jean John, Attorney at Law Nov. 1, 2021

If there is a breakdown in your marriage, legal separation or divorce are among the available options to end the matrimony union. In California, seeking a court decree of legal separation allows you and your spouse to live separately while remaining legally married. Conversely, filing for divorce ends your marriage permanently and legally. A one-on-one conversation with a knowledgeable California family law attorney is important to evaluate your unique situation and determine what option is right for you.

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I'm dedicated to offering experienced legal guidance and brilliant advocacy to individuals and families in family law matters, including divorce and legal separation. I'm available to discuss your unique circumstances, explore your marriage dissolution options, and enlighten you about the benefits and drawbacks of divorce and legal separation. My firm is proud to serve clients throughout Ontario, Riverside, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County, California.


In California, a legal separation allows you and your spouse to live apart but doesn't end your marriage. Here are some major differences between legal separation and divorce:

Does Your Marriage End?

Legal separation doesn't end your marriage or domestic partnership. You are still married while legally separated. In contrast, a divorce ends your marriage permanently.

Marital Status

Legal separation allows you to retain your marital status. Conversely, a divorce will restore your previous marital status as single.

Can You Remarry?

You are still married while legally separated. Hence, you cannot remarry. In contrast, you can remarry after getting a divorce.

Can You Retain Marital Benefits?

In a legal separation, you may be able to retain certain marital benefits such as life or health insurance. In contrast, a divorce may leave you without your spouse's life or health insurance coverage.

Property Rights

Legal separation preserves your legal rights to inherit your spouse's property or estate upon death. Conversely, a divorce will terminate such property rights.


After a legal separation, you will still be considered as your partner's next of kin and can make medical or financial decisions on their behalf. Unfortunately, this may not be possible in a divorce.

An experienced family law lawyer can evaluate your unique situation and enlighten you about what option may be right for you.


Seeking a court order for legal separation may be the ideal option when you and/or your spouse:

  • Want to preserve your marriage but live apart

  • Want to avoid the trauma and emotional ramifications of divorce

  • Have a religious, moral, or social objection to filing for divorce

  • Want to practice separation (or living apart) to better prepare yourself for potential divorce

  • Want to give your minor children a stable home or family

  • Want to preserve certain marital benefits such as healthcare, life insurance, or retirement benefits that will terminate in a divorce

A knowledgeable attorney can review your unique situation and help you understand the legal separation process.


The legal separation process in California is similar to the divorce process in the state. The spouse seeking legal separation will:

  • File the petition.

  • Provide vital information and documentation about your marriage.

  • Pay the required filing fees.

  • Serve the petition on the other spouse.

  • File financial disclosures with the court.

In addition, couples seeking legal separation must provide the California family court with a legally acceptable reason (or ground) for the separation. With California being a "no-fault" divorce state, the grounds to file for legal separation include irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity.

Unlike a divorce, there is no residency requirement for a legal separation in California. Before the request is granted, the couples can use the waiting period to negotiate the separation terms and draft a separation agreement.


In California, spouses who decide to separate may enter into a "separation agreement." The separation agreement can be described as a legally binding contract that outlines the rights and responsibilities of the spouses and other matters, including property division, spousal support, child custody, child support, and parenting time.

Furthermore, the California courts encourage both parties to work together to create the best separation agreement for their family. However, negotiating and drawing up a well-detailed agreement can present different challenges. Therefore, it is best that you hire an attorney to help protect your rights and draft a valid and fair agreement for the best interests of your family.


If you are unhappy in your marriage, you may seek a divorce or legal separation. However, marriage dissolution in California often involves several complexities. Understanding the legal implications and emotional consequences of divorce or legal separation is crucial to help you make intelligent decisions. A knowledgeable family law attorney can explore your available legal options and determine the best option for your relationship.

I have devoted my career to offering outstanding legal services and helping individuals and families navigate the complexities of divorce and legal separation. As your legal counsel, I will evaluate the circumstances surrounding your unique situation and help you understand the differences between divorce and legal separation. I will work meticulously with both parties to establish a fair settlement agreement and help resolve relationship differences peacefully and quickly.

Call my firm – the Law Office of Shelly Jean John – to schedule a simple consultation with an experienced divorce attorney. I can offer you the detailed legal counsel, support, and reliable advocacy you need to navigate important decisions and help you move forward confidently. My firm is proud to serve clients across Ontario, Riverside, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County, California.