Legal Separation in California

A divorce is a big, permanent shift in your relationship status, but it’s not your only choice in California. If you’re unhappy in your marriage or domestic partnership but not ready for an irrevocable break, a legal separation could be a good option. 

During a legal separation, you and your spouse or partner 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. At the end of a separation, you might choose to file for divorce, or you might try to salvage your marriage. 

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 all 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 about financial support and childcare. 

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

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 up 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 the divorce rules like residency requirements.

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:

  • Trial: If you're not sure if a divorce is the right step, you could try an independent life with a legal separation. 
  • Ease: To get a California divorce, one of the spouses must have lived in California for the past 6 months and at least 3 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 6-month 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 & 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 breakup. 
  • FL-105: Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Use this form if you have children together that 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. 

How to file for a legal separation in California 

Four steps are required to file for a legal separation. Don't be intimidated by all of these steps. If you run into trouble, plenty of people can help you. 

Step 1: Start your case

One spouse files for separation with the court. That spouse sends copies of the paperwork to the other spouse. And the receiving spouse responds with more paperwork. 

Step 2: Share financial data

The initiating spouse must share data about assets, bank accounts, and more. In their response, the other spouse must share similar financial information. 

Step 3: 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 decide on everything in your agreement at this step. 

Step 4: Finalize your separation

With all of the important parts decided, you can file the final paperwork with the courts. Once you file, your separation is formalized. 

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. This trial process could help you to understand what life will be like if you’re apart. 

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?

The day you file your paperwork in California is the formal date of your legal separation. 


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. 
California Code, Family Code - FAM 2030. (January 2019). FindLaw. 
Divorce Forms. Judicial Branch of California.
Getting a Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California.