Legal Separation in California

Legal separation allows you to remain technically married to your spouse. You’ll divide assets and debts, make decisions about children, and tackle several of the same big decisions that divorcing people do. However, unlike a divorce, a legal separation can be reversed if you change your mind.

A separation doesn’t expire, so you can take as long as you need to make decisions about your future. But getting a legal separation isn’t easy. You’ll go through the same steps required for a divorce, so don’t make this decision lightly.

What is a legal separation?

Marriage is a legal contract between two people. A legal separation is a pause in this contract. 

After a legal separation, you remain married to your spouse. The court divides your property (with your input), and you make arrangements for financial support and childcare. 

While you're still technically married, you might live apart from your spouse and set up a separate household. You might experiment with your freedom. But if both of you change your mind, you can reverse course and take the "pause" off your marriage. 

Legal separation vs. divorce: Understanding your options

A divorce permanently ends your marriage. You can set up an independent household, marry someone new, and start a new life completely independent of your partner.

A legal separation is different. The court may help you divide your shared assets and debts, and you make plans for shared children. However, you’re technically still married.

Some people think of a legal separation as a divorce trial run. During a legal separation, you and your spouse have separate households, and this allows you to see what it’s like to live apart. You may even decide to date other people during this time. Eventually, you might choose to file for divorce. Or, you might try to salvage your marriage. Some people remain legally separated indefinitely.

The steps required for a legal separation and a divorce are the same. You use the same forms and follow the same set of instructions. But the boxes you check on those forms are slightly different.

Key facts about legal separation in California 

  • It costs up to $450 to file the necessary paperwork for a legal separation.
  • You'll pay this same fee to begin divorce proceedings, so a legal separation isn't a less-expensive option. 
  • The steps required for a separation or a divorce are the same. You use the same forms and follow the same set of instructions. But the boxes you check on those forms are slightly different. 
  • You can change a legal separation to a divorce. If you both decide it’s best to get divorced instead of separated, you can change course in the middle of the process. 
  • If your spouse served you with legal separation paperwork, you could respond with a request for divorce instead. 

What issues can you address in a legal separation?

A married household is filled with mementos, assets, and people with emotional investments in your family life. During a legal separation, you look for ways to split everything equitably. 

When you file your paperwork, you can ask a judge to make orders about the following:

  • Property: You can determine who stays in the home you made together or who retains control over a rental property. 
  • Debt: You can decide how much each couple pays to settle loans you made while living as a couple. 
  • Support: Alimony and palimony agreements could be part of your settlement. 
  • Children: If you have children younger than 18, you might make their living arrangements in a legal separation. You might also determine if the spouse retaining custody should get paid to support the child. 

Some couples have many details to work through during a separation, and others have fewer. 

California requirements for filing a legal separation 

Couples must meet specific requirements to get a legal separation. The rules are slightly more flexible than those for a California divorce. For some couples, a separation is the best way to split if they can’t meet a divorce rule such as the residency requirement.

To file for a separation, only one of you must live in California. And there’s no waiting period. Even if you just moved to California yesterday, you could file for separation. There are no other requirements. 

California laws relating to a legal separation 

You don't need to know all the laws about separation in California, and you can't break the laws by filing for a separation. But if you're interested in the technical details, these are the laws relating to a legal separation.

FAM 2310

This law says that couples can break up based on one of two grounds:

  • Irreconcilable differences 
  • Legal incapacity 

You'll need to cite one of these states when you file for your separation. 

FAM 2330

This law states that a dissolution should include the following facts:

  • The date of the marriage
  • The date of the separation
  • The number of years from marriage to separation 
  • The number of children in the marriage 
  • The age and birthday of each minor child in the marriage 

FAM 2030

This law involves the cost of a legal separation, including details about who pays attorney fees and how the information is settled. 

Things to consider before beginning a legal separation 

While a legal separation is reversible, it's still a statement. Before you head down this road with your partner, it's wise to take a pause and consider the risks and benefits.

Benefits of a legal separation in California 

There are plenty of good reasons to consider a legal separation, such as these:

  • Reversible: If you're not sure if a divorce is the right step, you could try an independent life with a legal separation and reverse it later, if both of you wanted to do so.
  • Ease: To get a California divorce, one of the spouses must have lived in California for the past six months and at least three months in the county of the divorce. To get a California legal separation, no time limit like this exists. 
  • Flexibility: You can move from a separation to a divorce in the midst of the process. 

Disadvantages of a legal separation in California 

While a legal separation is right for some people, it's not the best option for all couples. Disadvantages include the following:

  • Trauma: Starting a conversation like this isn't easy, and you may have difficult conversations with your spouse as a result. 
  • Hassle: Plenty of forms are required to separate, and they’re all the same ones you would use if you wanted to get a divorce.

Is there a waiting period to get a legal separation?

No, there is no waiting period to get a legal separation like there is to get a divorce. As soon as you file the paperwork for a legal separation, it's official. If you file for divorce, you must wait 6 months after filing paperwork for your divorce to become final. 

How much does a legal separation in California cost?

You must file paperwork to begin a legal separation. You must pay a fee of up to $450 to start that case. 

Some couples pay more for their legal separation. They hire mediators to help them work through complex cases, and they may even need lawyers to wrangle the difficult parts. But the $450 fee is the only known and required fee. 

Forms and paperwork required to get a legal separation

Like a divorce, a large amount of paperwork is involved in a legal separation. These are the forms you and your spouse should fill out:

  • FL-100: Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership. This starts your divorce.
  • FL-100: Summons. This tells your spouse about your impending break-up.
  • FL-105: Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Use this form if you have children together who are younger than 18.
  • FL-115: Proof of Service of Summons. This form notifies the court that you’ve served papers.
  • FL-120: Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership. This form allows your spouse to respond to your petition.
  • FL-140: Declaration of Disclosure. This form is a cover sheet for your financial paperwork.
  • FL-150: Income and Expense Declaration. This form details your financial health.
  • FL-142: Schedule of Assets and Debts. This form details what you own.
  • FL-141: Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure. This form tells the court you’ve sent your documents.
  • FL-130: Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers. This form tells the court if you’re both participating in the case and that you agree to waive your rights to a trial.
  • FL-170: Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation. This form tells the court to decide the case based on your signed agreement.
  • FL-180: Judgment. Attach your signed agreement to this form.
  • How to file for a legal separation in California 

How to file

Four steps are required to file for a legal separation. 

Step 1: Start your case

One spouse files for separation with the court. The petitioner (the person who starts the case) should fill out the following forms:

Bring these forms to the courthouse in your county and file them. You’ll get official copies back, which you’ll use in the next step. You’ll pay a $435 to $450 filing fee at this stage.

Step 2: Send documents to your spouse

Gather your official documents and collect the following two forms:

Find someone unconnected to your case (a server) to deliver all of your official documents to your spouse. When that step is complete, ask the server to fill out the proof of service form and deliver it to your court.

Step 3: Share financial data

The initiating spouse must share data about assets, bank accounts, and more. Several forms are included in this process, including the following:

Give your spouse copies of all of these forms, and file FL-141 with the court.

In their response, your spouse must share similar financial information. Watch for these forms.

Step 4: Make decisions

Couples must decide how to split assets, care for children, and more. Some couples come to an agreement easily, but others use mediators or lawyers to help.

A marital settlement agreement is your goal at the end of this step. California courts require this document before finalizing your separation, so you can’t move forward without it. Some people use settlement agreements as templates to guide negotiations with their partners. The final document should include information about the following:

  • Acknowledgements that you’ve shared critical information
  • Child custody arrangements
  • Child support arrangements
  • Property and asset splits
  • Debt splits

When you have prepared and signed a separation agreement, you’re ready to move forward.

Step 5: Finalize your separation

With all of the important parts decided, you’re ready to finalize your separation.

More forms are required, including the following:

The court will review your case, a judge will sign the final documents, and you’ll get form FL-190: Notice of Entry of Judgement in the mail. That’s your official notice that the separation is final.

Is a legal separation required to get a divorce in California?

Many people believe they must use a separation as a trial before they can initiate divorce proceedings. This simply isn’t true. You can move directly from marriage to divorce. 

But there’s no reason to avoid a separation if you’re just not sure if divorce is right for you. You could try a trial separation, or you could go so far as to use your legal separation as a trial process. However, it’s important to know that “trially separated” is not a legal status.

Suggested: 5 Benefits of a Trial Separation and Tools for Success

Legal separation in California FAQ

Many people have questions about how legal separations work. These are a few common questions that come up from time to time. 

What does it mean to be legally separated in California?

After a legal separation, you're still married. But your household is equally split between you and your spouse, and you've made critical decisions about your children and your assets. 

Why would you get a legal separation instead of a divorce in California?

Some people don't meet the residency requirements for a divorce in California. They can get separated instead. And some couples aren't sure if divorce is right for them. They use a separation as a trial, just to see if breaking up is right for them. 

What should you not do during a separation?

Remember that you are still married during your separation. You can date other people, acquire property, and more. But you can't get married to anyone else. A divorce is needed before you take that big step.

What determines the date of your separation in California?

Per California law, the date of separation is the day when there’s a break in your marriage. For some people, that’s the day they moved out of shared housing. For others, it is the day they filed paperwork with the court.  

Can you date other people after a separation?

When your separation is final, you’re still a married person. You can date other people and explore what life might be like with a different partner. However, you can’t get married without an official divorce.

Can you buy property after a separation?

After a legal separation, you’re financially independent of your spouse. You can buy property and assets under your name without worrying about sharing them with your ex.


Legal Separation. Judicial Branch of California. 
Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
California Code, Family Code - FAM 2310. (January 2019). FindLaw. 
California Code, Family Code - FAM 2330. (January 2019). FindLaw. 
Divorce Forms. Judicial Branch of California.
Getting a Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California.
Finish Your Divorce When You Have a Written Agreement. Judicial Branch of California.
Date of Separation. Judicial Branch of California.
Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
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After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.