Julie Bowen, who is currently best known for her role as Claire Dunphy on the hit sitcom Modern Family, is having some modern family troubles of her own. It was recently reported that Bowen and her husband, who have been married for 13 years have legally separated. Legal separation is generally the first step spouses will take when their marriage begins to fail. It often initiates the divorce process and allows couples to begin living separate lives.

How is legal separation different from divorce? What are the benefits of legal separation? If your marriage is on the rocks these may be questions that interest you. Bowen likely consulted with a divorce lawyer in Los Angeles to learn about separation before she decided to take the leap.

What is Legal Separation?

In California, a legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. Instead, the separation allows married couples to live apart and lead individual lives. When couples are legally separated they can rely on a court to solve disputes that they may be unable to solve on their own. Courts can have the authority to make decisions about property division, support requirements, restraining orders, and child custody. Taking the decision out of the spouse’s hands can help to limit arguments and hostility in a relationship. While legal separation is often the first step in a divorce, it can also be a time for spouses to reset, refocus, and re-adjust to married life. Just because a couple decides to separate legally does not necessarily mean that they will go on to get a divorce.

Benefits of Legal Separation

Legal separation is very similar to a divorce. Couples split up, live separately, divide assets, and rely on legally-binding orders to hash out the details of their lives. Why would couples choose to separate rather than get married? There are two primary reasons: time and benefits.

First, a legal separation can allow spouses to test the waters and see if parting ways is truly what they want. Separation can be a trial phase to test out what a divorce would be like. This can give spouses the room, space, and time they need to evaluate their relationship and futures without the pressure of divorce.

Second, legal separation does not end a marriage. Married couples often reap excellent benefits in their lives simply because of the fact that they married. Health insurance, tax breaks, retirement benefits, and insurance discounts are just a few prime examples of the benefits of being married. Couples who aren’t the happiest in their relationship, but want (or need) to maintain these benefits, can benefit from a legal separation. This can be beneficial unless and until one spouse decides they want to remarry.

How Can I File for Legal Separation in California?

It is fairly simple to file for legal separation in California. In fact, the process is almost identical to the process of filing for a divorce. In order to separate from your spouse or partner you must complete the following steps:

  1. Complete all of the necessary forms, including the Petition (FL-100) and Summons (FL-110).
  2. File your request with your local court, stating irreconcilable differences as the reason for the separation.
  3. Serve a copy of the separation documents on your spouse.
  4. Complete the required financial disclosures.
  5. Wait for your spouse to respond.

The rest of the separation process will depend on the actions of your spouse. If your spouse agrees to the separation you can file an Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers form (FL-130) with the court. If the court accepts the terms of your proposed separation they will sign off and the separation will be official. If your spouse contests the separation and/or the terms you’ve proposed the matter will take a little bit longer to resolve. This could mean going to court or using mediation to find common ground.

Experienced Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys

Have you been thinking about getting a divorce? If so, you may want to consider trying out a legal separation before you make a life-changing decision. Call the family law attorneys at Fernandez & Karney to learn more about the benefits of a legal separation. During your free consultation, we will review your case and answer any questions you have.