By Amanda Gordon, JD

If your spouse has filed for Legal Separation, you may be wondering whether or not you need to complete the Legal Separation process or if you can still file for divorce.  Collaborative Professionals in the Bay Area will tell their clients about the different options for dissolving your marriage.

On the Petition for dissolution there are three options:  Dissolution (Divorce), Legal Separation and Nullity.

A Petition for Nullity is when you wish to ask the Court to annul your marriage, which has the effect of the marriage never having taken place. There are very specific reasons for asking the court to annul your marriage which are not the subject of this blog post.

A Petition for Legal Separation is a request for the court to find you legally separated.  Legal separation must be by agreement. A judgment of legal separation does not terminate the marital status and may be granted only if both parties consent or if the respondent does not appear and the petition requested a legal separation.

A common misconception is that a judgment of legal separation is the same as the “date of separation”.  This is not the case.

The typical reasons for filing for legal separation are when parties have a religious reason to not get divorced or if the party has not established residency yet in the County where they file for divorce.  Another popular reason for legal separation is that at one point health insurance companies were allowing legally separated spouses to stay on the health insurance of their spouse. This is not always the case as most health insurance plans treat a judgment for legal separation the same as a judgment for dissolution of marriage, meaning that a spouse subject to a judgment of legal separation is no longer the dependent of the other spouse for purposes of health insurance coverage.   The advantage of legal separation is that you can divide all of your assets/debts while not being divorced. The disadvantage is that you cannot get remarried.

Since legal separation is by agreement, if you are the other party and wish to ask for a divorce, you can reply to the Petition by filing a Response and state that you are asking for a dissolution. The reason for your dissolution can be that you have irreconcilable differences.

If your spouse has filed for legal separation and you think they may not understand the full meaning of this action, we encourage you and your spouse to attend Divorce Options: where you both can learn more about different process options for getting divorced or legally separated in California.