How to File for a Legal Separation in California

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

How to File for a Legal Separation in California

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

Filing for a legal separation in California is not that much different from filing for divorce. Documentation must be prepared and provided to your spouse. If there are any issues that you and your spouse can't agree upon, the court will step in and determine the most suitable outcome on such issues.

Two people sitting across from each other at a table signing documents while a separate woman sits at the head of the table, watching

But unlike divorce, a legal separation is less time consuming, more economical, and not as costly. And if you and your spouse choose to give the marriage another try, you won't have to go through the process of getting married again, making it much easier to reconvene your lives.

Legal Separation

Many people confuse legal separation with physical separation. If you and your spouse are not living together but have taken no other action, you are physically separated.

Legal separation requires a number of steps, which involve obtaining a California court order. Therefore, before you are considered legally separated from your spouse, you'll need to follow the steps below to understand how this process works in California.

1. Identify grounds for separation.

Just like a divorce, when filing for legal separation in California, you must have grounds to do so. California specifically lays out the legitimate grounds as follows:

  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Legal incapacity

Under California law, these are the only reasons that qualify for a legal separation. But irreconcilable differences is broad and most people going through this process could fall into this category.

2. File Form FL-100.

California Form FL-100 is the form you need to begin the process. Make sure you pay attention to the boxes as this form contains options to file for both a legal separation and a divorce. If you have children, the form also allows you the option of letting the court determine child custody issues. If your children are under the age of 18, California will also require you to complete Form FL-105.

Once you have completed the form and made sure you noted legal separation and not divorce, you need to file the form and pay the applicable fee at your county courthouse. This fee can vary so check with your local clerk to find out how much you will need to pay. You can also ask about any waivers or discounts you may be eligible for if you meet certain conditions.

3. Serve your spouse.

Finally, you need to have your spouse served with the paperwork. This is generally done by a process server to ensure that the paperwork is served correctly under the law. However, you can have any person over the age of 18 serve the paperwork too.

You may also mail the paperwork to your spouse. If you use this method, it's recommended that you choose certified mail so you can track the paperwork to the destination.

A legal separation is a cheaper and less time consuming alternative to divorce. After going through this process, you can still get a divorce at a later time if you wish to do so. Choosing to legally separate from your spouse is not an easy decision to make. But once you've decided that it's right for your family, you can complete the process by following these steps.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.