Legal Separation vs. Divorce in California

By Law Office of Karen S. Brown

When a marriage faces irreconcilable differences, couples in California have two main options: legal separation or divorce. 

While both processes formalize separation, there are differences to consider. Understanding these differences is important to determine which options are right for you. 

Legal Separation

Legal separation is an alternative to divorce for couples who wish to live separately but maintain certain legal benefits of marriage. During a legal separation, the court addresses child custody, child support, spousal support and property division. This is also done in a divorce. The difference is that the couple remains legally married.

The benefits offered by legal separation include the following:

  • Retention of benefits: Legal separation allows couples to retain certain benefits, such as healthcare coverage or social security benefits. These may be lost in a divorce.

  • Reflection and potential reconciliation: It provides a reflection where the couple can consider reconciliation. It does not fully terminate the marriage.

There’s no time limit, either, on how long a legal separation can last.


On the other hand, divorce, also known as the dissolution of marriage, dissolves the legal bond between spouses. It permanently ends the marriage and allows both parties to remarry. Divorce involves similar legal proceedings as legal separation. It addresses child custody, support and property division issues. Unlike legal separation, divorce ends all legal ties between the parties.

The advantages of divorce over legal separation include the following:

  • Clear resolution: Divorce provides a clear and final resolution, allowing individuals to move on with their lives independently.

  • Independence and remarriage: It allows both parties to pursue new relationships and remarry if desired.

Ultimately, whether to pursue legal separation or divorce in California depends on each couple’s specific circumstances and goals. It is essential to carefully evaluate your personal needs, the legal implications of each move and their llong-term consequences before deciding. This will help you make the right decision for your situation.