Determining Whether Divorce or Separation Is Best for You in California
Ending a marriage is a major decision, and it is not one that anyone should make without careful consideration of the implications. Some marriages slowly deteriorate over time, while others experience acute problems due to the specific actions of one or both spouses. Ultimately, marital problems can arise in many ways and sometimes severely, but divorce does not have to be the automatic response to these issues. For some couples, divorce may not be an option due to their beliefs or medical needs.
Legal separation can potentially provide the benefits you expect from divorce without the finality of dissolution. However, to complete a legal separation in California, you must be prepared to address the same issues you and your spouse would need to address in divorce proceedings. The right attorney is invaluable in this situation as they can help you make more informed decisions about your separation proceedings.
Understanding the Purpose of Legal Separation in California
Considering the fact that obtaining a legal separation requires essentially the same process as finalizing a divorce, it’s understandable to wonder why a couple would pursue separation. Once a divorce is finalized, the marriage is over; there is no way to undo the divorce. The couple could later decide to remarry, but this would be a new marriage and would not overrule or cancel their divorce. Legal separation, by comparison, is only as final as the couple wishes it to be.
Some couples use legal separation as a springboard for future divorce. For example, if they have children who are almost old enough to leave the family home, they may decide to separate to better resolve issues that would be more complex in a divorce and remain legally married until their kids move out. It’s also possible for a couple to use legal separation in lieu of divorce when their religious beliefs forbid divorce. This would enable them to legally separate from one another within the confines of their religious restrictions.
Ultimately, a legal separation can serve many useful functions as an alternative to divorce, and there are many paths a couple may take after finalizing a legal separation in California. They may later decide to move to finalize their divorce, and the legal separation will have already resolved most of the issues that would require addressing. They could also decide to reconcile, in which case they would simply submit a joint petition to rescind their legal separation order, and they would effectively go back to married life according to their wishes. However legal separation might potentially benefit you, it is always best to have reliable legal representation to guide you through separation proceedings.
What to Expect in Legal Separation
If you and your spouse agree to legal separation, it’s possible to retain some of the benefits of remaining legally married while also establishing separate living spaces and more clearly defined respective finances. Either spouse may file a petition to separate, and the couple will need to resolve most of the issues typically covered in divorce.
When separating spouses have children together, they must resolve custody and parenting time. Some separated spouses will choose to remain living together if they find this arrangement suitable, and they may not need to determine a custody or visitation schedule if their home life will remain largely uninterrupted by their separation.
California enforces a community property law, and the couple must determine separate ownership rights over their respective shares of their marital property in separation proceedings. In some cases, these decisions are made tentatively and do not take effect unless the couple finalizes their divorce. In other cases, the spouses legally separate their finances during their family court proceedings.
Legal separation enables the couple to remain married for tax purposes, and they will still retain many other benefits that legal marriage provides. Should they ever decide to move to divorce, their legal separation provides a framework and streamlines dissolution. Alternatively, they could decide to reconcile, and it won’t take long to have their separation order revoked.
Q: Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Legal Separation?
A: It is technically possible to complete the legal separation process without an attorney, but you are far more likely to have a positive experience and reach a favorable outcome when you have an experienced attorney advising you. Your attorney can make the entire process much easier and help you make informed decisions about every aspect of your case.
Q: How Much Does a California Family Law Attorney Cost to Hire?
A: Most family lawyers in California bill clients using an hourly rate. The more time they spend on a case, the more they bill the client. Some attorneys offer flat rates for very specific legal services, and it’s also possible for an attorney to provide limited scope representation. Before you sign a contract for an attorney’s counsel, make sure you fully understand their billing policy.
Q: How Long Does Legal Separation Take?
A: Since legal separation in California requires addressing many of the same issues as a divorce, resolving a legal separation is very similar to resolving a divorce. While it may not take quite as long as dissolution proceedings, a separating couple should still expect to spend several weeks to several months finalizing their separation order.
Q: Is It Worth Hiring an Attorney for Divorce or Separation?
A: Whether you plan to separate from your spouse or file for divorce in California, it is always best to approach these difficult proceedings with the support of trusted legal counsel. An experienced attorney can provide valuable insights and help you approach your divorce or separation with greater confidence. If you are not sure which option would be best for you and your spouse, your attorney can explain the potential benefits and drawbacks of both.
Bickford, Blado & Botros are a team of experienced Southern California family law attorneys with years of experience guiding our clients through all manner of complex family court cases. If you are ready to discuss your impending divorce or separation with an experienced attorney, contact us today, and schedule your consultation with our team.
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