California Separation & Divorce

By Lainie Petersen
Divorce, separation, different legal options
ring image by Jens Klingebiel from

When a married couple finds that they can no longer live together, they have two options in California: They can file for legal separation or divorce. In a legal separation, the couple can remain married; each takes control of and responsibility for his or her own finances. A divorce, on the other hand, ends their marriage and leaves both free to marry someone else if they so choose.


Divorce in California is the dissolution of a marriage. After a divorce, a couple's legal bonds are dissolved, making each person free to remarry. In a divorce proceeding, a court order is issued that divides a couple's property and debt, and that defines any ongoing financial obligation from one spouse to another. The court order also settles the custody of children during a divorce proceeding.

Grounds and Time Frame

California is a "no fault" divorce state. Divorce can be obtained on the grounds of either irreconcilable differences or a spouse's incurable insanity. One spouse cannot stop another spouse from getting a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. (Such a dispute is in and of itself evidence of an irreconcilable difference.) California has a mandatory six-month "cooling-off" period between the time that a divorce is filed and when it can actually be granted.

Residency Requirements

A person can obtain a California divorce only if he has been a resident of California for at least six months. In addition, he must be a resident of the county in which he is filing for divorce for at least three months prior prior to beginning divorce proceedings.

Legal Separation

In a legal separation, a couple asks for a court order that divides property, settles child custody issues, and orders spousal maintenance. When a couple legally separates, their finances are separated and no further community property is accumulated. The couple may lead separate lives, but they are still legally married and are not free to marry anyone else. Couples who have a religious objection to divorce but who do not wish to live together may choose legal separation. Other reasons for a couple to legally separate instead of divorce in order to preserve medical insurance coverage for one spouse.

Separation Residency

There is no residency requirement to file for a legal separation, as opposed to the six-month residency period for divorce.

About the Author

Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.