saclaw logoQ- I’m curious, are individuals who are legally separated by court order still legally married?

A- A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. You cannot marry or enter into a partnership with someone else if you are legally separated and not divorced. However, if you initially ask for a legal separation, you may be able to change to a divorce case later if you meet certain requirements. In order to get a legal separation, you follow the same basic process used for a divorce. Fill-in-the-blank forms are available at

Similar with a divorce, when asking for a legal separation, the judge can make family law orders about custody and visitation, child or spousal support, and the division of property and debts without getting divorced.

According to the California Courts website, there are many reasons why a couple would decide they want to file for legal separation instead of divorce.

  • They do not want to get a divorce but want to live apart and get orders from the court about money, property, and parenting issues.
  • They do not want to get a divorce for religious reasons.
  • They do not want to get a divorce because of their personal beliefs.
  • They do not meet the required residency requirements to file for divorce in California, and they cannot or do not want to wait to get the process of separating started.
  • They do not want to divorce because of financial reasons (for example, to keep a spouse or partner on the other’s health insurance plan or to keep certain benefits that require a couple to remain married).

In California, residency requirements for a legal separation requires that at least one spouse is living in California.  Requirements are stricter for a divorce, but once enough time has passed to meet the residency requirements for a divorce, you can file an amended petition and ask the court for a divorce.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.


Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian