In California, a legal separation is not the same as a separation agreement.
What is a Legal Separation?
A legal separation is an alternative to divorce. Some couples who choose this alternative do so as way to bring some closure to a relationship without having to completely end the marriage. They may choose a legal separation for religious reasons or for some practical purpose, such as the desire to maintain one spouse on the other’s health care plan. If you’re considering legal separation for health insurance purposes, make sure that a legal separation does constitute a disqualifying event under your plan.
With a legal separation, you will still have to deal with all the formalities of a divorce, including the following steps:
file a petition (legal paperwork) for legal separation,
make decisions about custody,
alimony and property division,which may be reached by an agreement between spouses or by a court,
and get a final judgment of legal separation from the court.
What is a Separation Agreement?
A Separation Agreement is different from the formal process of getting “legally separated.” In California, spouses that have decided to separate may enter into a “separation agreement,” which is a legally binding contract that deals with all aspects of their separation, including issues of child support and visitation (if there are children), property division and alimony. However, unlike obtaining an official “legal separation,” you don’t have to go to court to enter into a separation agreement with your spouse.
A separation agreement allows couples to address important issues that will come up during their separation period, including:
where the children will live,
when the children will spend time with each parent,
how the couple will pay living expenses, such as rent and/or mortgage payments, utilities, taxes, health care costs and groceries during separation,
whether either spouse will pay child support and/or alimony during separation,
how the couple will manage assets (for example, bank accounts or investments) during the separation period,
whether the couple will divide or sell any property during the separation period,
and how property and income obtained after the date of the separation will be treated (post-separation income is typically considered separate property of the spouse that earns it, but couples may want to make sure that provision is in writing so there’s no confusion later, or couples can agree to treat it differently).
Should I Hire an Attorney?
A separation agreement is the result of a negotiation between spouses, which can occur at your kitchen table, in a mediator’s office, or through attorneys for both sides.
Some simple matters may be resolved directly between spouses without any legal help (for example, where the couple has minimal property, few debts and no children), but for most people, negotiating and drafting a comprehensive agreement that will hold up in court is difficult. Because the decisions made in a separation (or divorce) may have serious consequences, it’s best to hire an attorney who can ensure that your rights are protected, and draft a valid agreement.
In addition, communicating with someone you’re separating from can be challenging at best. If your marriage is ending, you and your spouse probably weren’t communicating very effectively before the breakup, and it’s not likely to get better now. Although some spouses remain friendly and reach agreements easily, most separating couples can’t expect to get too far in a one-on-one discussion before emotions boil over and get in the way of a resolution. These couples need professionals that can create a buffer, and negotiate with the other side.
If you need help drafting a separation agreement, or you have questions about whether you should pursue a court-ordered legal separation or a divorce, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help you decide how to proceed.
If you have a question regarding Family Law in the San Fernando Valley please contact us at (818) 926-4420 or visit the Family Law section on our website at Law Offices of Anat Resnik. Call today and we will connect you with Anat Resnik, an experienced, aggressive, affordable Divorce and Family Law Attorney in the San Fernando Valley. After you have spoken with our San Fernando Valley Family Law attorney, we can schedule you a free face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or are considering any aspect of filing for Divorce, a Paternity issues, Child Custody and Visitation, Spousal Support & Alimony, etc. we can help! Call us now at(818) 926-4420. We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with any and all family law needs.