In California, you can request that the court issue a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage (the legal label for a divorce) or a Judgment of Legal Separation. If you request a Dissolution of Marriage (a divorce), the Judgment can include your agreements or the court’s orders about parenting, the division of your assets and debts, support, AND you will be changed from being married to being single. If you request a Legal Separation, the Judgment can also include your agreements or the court’s orders about parenting, the division of your assets and debts, support, BUT you are still married. If you decide at a later point that you want to remarry, you will have to file for a Dissolution of Marriage and obtain a separate Judgment changing you from being married to single even though all of your financial and parenting issues may have already been addressed in the Judgment of Legal Separation.
Why would someone request a Judgment of Legal Separation? Sometimes for religious reasons, someone does not want to obtain a divorce, but wants to separate their financial affairs with a court order. And until recently, some people requested a Legal Separation to be able to stay on their spouse’s health insurance due to insurability problems. However, with the changes in health insurance availability and the new policies of many employers not to continue coverage if there is a Judgment of Legal Separation, this is rarely a reason for a Legal Separation anymore. One final reason is that there is a residential requirement to file for divorce. In order to qualify to file for a divorce, you must have lived in California for at least six months and in the county you are filing in for at least three months. If you have not lived in the county where you want to file for three months (perhaps you recently moved there), you can first file for a legal separation (which has no time restrictions for filing) and then later amend your Petition to file for a dissolution of marriage (divorce) once you have resided in the county for three months.
Does this mean you haven’t “separated” until a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage or a Judgment of Legal Separation has been filed? No. There is a difference between a Judgment of Legal Separation and the “date of separation” that affects your financial rights, duties and responsibilities.