The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

Sometimes two things are similar, but not quite the same. For example, divorce and legal separation both involve major changes to marital relationship. Yet there are some distinct differences between divorce and legal separation. Before deciding which is right for you, you’ll need to consider several factors.

Marital Status

One difference between a separation and a divorce proceeding is that a legal separation does not seek termination of the marriage. Divorce does.

In a legal separation, the parties remain married. Neither can remarry. Remarriage is an option for divorced couples, although it may affect spousal support and social security benefits.

People who remain legally separated may be eligible for:

  • greater social security benefits at retirement (depending on other factors);
  • health insurance benefits;
  • tax benefits enjoyed by filing jointly; and
  • some military benefits.

A divorced spouse may lose benefits as soon as the divorce is final.


The parties still divide up marital and community property and debts whether they are divorcing or legally separating.

Just living apart may not be enough. Couples may remain liable for each other’s debts and legal problems unless they formally separate. A legal separation agreement may provide some protection while spelling out each party’s responsibilities when it comes to financial obligations.

In a divorce proceeding, the final divorce settlement shows a clear division of assets and debts.

Residency Requirements

The party filing for divorce must be California residents for at least six months before filing. In addition, the party must live in the county in which they filed for at least three months.  People who do not meet that residency requirement mays file for legal separation instead. The legal separation can be changed to a divorce proceeding at a later date.

Other Factors to Consider.

A legal separation goes into effect as soon as the paperwork is filed. A divorce, however, may take at least six months from filing the petition to signing the final divorce settlement. For couples who need some space, but not a complete end to the marriage, a legal separation might be best.

Also, sometimes a legal separation fits the couple’s religious beliefs better than a divorce. The couple don’t completely break their marriage vows, which may satisfy family and church leaders. However, the parties are spared the ordeal of living together.

Need Help Deciding Whether to Divorce or Legally Separate?

Find out about whether to terminate your marriage or just put it on hold.

To discuss the particulars of your situation, please call us at 415-293-8314. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.
Paying Bills After Filing the Divorce Petition

Paying Bills After Filing the Divorce Petition

Bill and Marcie decided to end their stormy 13-year marriage. After Bill filed the divorce petition, he and Marcie started negotiating the final divorce settlement. One of the first things they did was to divide their bills and household expenses. Bill became concerned when he started receiving late notices from utility companies and the mortgage company. Marcie was living in the house, so he felt she should be paying all the household-related bills. But Marcie felt like Bill had always paid the bills and, as primary breadwinner, should continue doing so. They took the issue to their respective attorneys.

Joint Debts, Separate Debts

As couples head toward a negotiated divorce settlement, decisions are made about marital property. Debt is also divided along community debt and separate debt lines. Those lines can be a bit vague until the settlement is final, but the bills still keep rolling in.

If possible, both spouses could cover the bills by:

  • Splitting the bills with each party paying approximately the same amount;
  • Total the bills and have each spouse pay half;
  • Temporarily separate the bills related to the home, if any, based on who is living at the home.

Each party should retain receipts of any bills they pay.

Spouse often keep joint credit cards. Typically, the balance due at date of separation may be considered to be marital debt owed by both parties. Sometimes people cancel joint credit card accounts so that one spouse does not run up a bill while the divorce is pending. However, if one spouse does use the card inappropriately, the other can ask for reimbursement.

Decisions about community debt and separate debt may be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, if Bill uses the joint credit card to pay expenses for the home that Marcie is still living in, it may be considered joint debt instead of Bill’s separate debt.

Sometimes one spouse is unable or unwilling to pay their fair share of the bills. In that case, the other spouse may pay the bills and request reimbursement. This may include situations where one spouse is living in the marital home while the other spouse pays the house-related expenses.

When Homes Are Involved

Mortgage companies, financial institutions, and landlords still expect to get paid. That’s reasonable. A party that is unable to pay a fair share of the expenses may ask the court to order the other spouse to temporarily pay them. For example, Marcie may ask a judge to order Bill to continue paying expenses although he is no longer in the home.

In situations where the couple leased or rented a home, things can become more complicated. Did both spouses sign the lease or only one? Did one spouse sign the lease, but now the other spouse is living in the leased property? The party or parties that signed the lease are still responsible for paying the lease. It’s best to discuss these situations with your attorney.

If Your Divorce Is Pending …

Protect yourself. Gather your bills and address their payment before late notices pile up.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.