When couples run into hard times and can no longer work things out, they have a few options. For some couples, divorce is the only option. For others, legal separation meets their immediate needs of physical separation from their spouse without the permanency or ramifications of divorce.

A divorce is a permanent dissolution of a marriage. A legal separation is a temporary or permanent separation but does not result in the dissolution of a marriage. If legally separated, the marital status of either party will still be married instead of single, until a divorce is finalized. Some couples enter into a trial separation and then either decide to work out their differences or proceed with a divorce. Until a couple divorces, neither one can enter into another marriage or partnership. A legal separation can be changed into a divorce case to be finalized but a divorce cannot be changed back into a separation or reversed.

In many other respects, a divorce and legal separation are fairly similar. In both, a judge can order child support or spousal support, make rulings on property and debt division, instate a custody agreement or parenting plan and order certain payments be made by a spouse. California has certain residency requirements for a divorce to be filed in state. Couples not meeting these requirements can legally separate, for which the residency requirements are less strict, and then change the case into a divorce once the requirements are met.

To divorce in California, either you or your spouse must have been living in California for at least six months and have lived in the county you plan to file in for at least three months. To be legally separated in California, at least one spouse needs to be living in California. Legal separation can also be an attractive option for couples that do not believe in divorce for cultural or religious reasons or when they do not want to give up certain benefits the marriage entitles them to, like life insurance policies and health insurance. The choice between a legal separation can be made for cultural, religious, emotional or practical reasons but only a divorce will dissolve your marriage.

The third option, although rare, is annulment, which is only available if you meet certain strict requirements. To get an annulment, your marriage needs to be considered invalid. This can be because the marriage is incestuous, bigamous, when one or both spouses were under 18, married under fraud or false pretenses or was mentally or physically incapacitated when they married. Contrary to popular belief, an annulment is not based on how long you have been married but rather the circumstances of the marriage.

Are you in the Los Angeles or Beverly Hills area and have questions about the divorce process? Certified Family Law Specialist Mark H. Karney has experience handling many complex divorce issues in Los Angeles County. Fernandez & Karney listen to your story and ensure you take the right steps towards divorcing or legally separating. Call our Los Angeles office at 310-564-5710; email us at intake@cfli.com or contact us through our online form to schedule your free consultation with one of Los Angeles’s premier family law attorneys.