How to File for Divorce After Legal Separation in California

Alone husband signing divorce agreement.

Divorce is a difficult process under the best of circumstances. If you are considering to file for divorce after legal separation, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Differences between Legal Separation and Divorce

California does recognize legal separation, and your rights and protections will be different depending on whether you stick with a separation or decide to file for a divorce.

A legal separation is a state-issued court order formally acknowledging your and your partner’s separate residences and individual lives. Without the permanence of divorce, this option lets you create financial boundaries, determine who is responsible for assets and debts, and detail child custody and support rules.

When would I stick with my separation rather than filing for divorce?

  • You want to live apart but you haven’t decided if completely dissolving your marriage is the best idea.
  • You haven’t decided if you want to legally dissolve the marriage but need to clearly define financial, property, and co-parenting matters.
  • Your religious beliefs or personal views prohibit divorce.
  • You want to retain certain benefits of marriage, like health insurance plans, tax benefits, or government benefits like Social Security.
  • You have not met the residency requirements to file for divorce (see requirements below) but want to start the process of legally separating.

Requirements for Filing a Divorce

First, you have to meet the residency requirements for filing for divorce. In order to file for divorce in California, one of the spouses must have been a resident of the state for at least six months and a resident of the county in which the divorce is filed for at least three months.

Because California is a “no-fault” state, you don’t need a very specific reason or example of what your partner did wrong, but you must provide a reason for why you are choosing to separate (i.e., irreconcilable differences).

Divorce Process in a Few Steps

Once you have met the residency requirements, you will need to file a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court. If you haven’t already, this would be a good time to find a divorce attorney to help you know your rights and navigate the process. The petition must be served on your spouse, who will then have 30 days to respond.

If you have minor children, the court will also require you to file a declaration of disclosure, which includes information about your assets and debts, as well as child custody and support arrangements.

After the initial paperwork is filed, there is a mandatory waiting period of six months before the divorce can be finalized. During this time, you and your spouse will have the opportunity to negotiate a settlement agreement. If you are unable to reach an agreement, the court will decide the terms of your divorce at a final hearing.

What to Do After a Divorce Settlement

Once the divorce is finalized, there are a few things you should take care of.

1) Make sure you update your beneficiaries on all life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other financial accounts.

2) If you have children, make sure to change your custody and visitation arrangements accordingly. You will also need to make sure that your child support payments are up to date.

3) Finally, make sure to change your name on all legal documents, including your driver’s license, passport, and social security card.

Divorce is a difficult process, even if both sides agree that it’s the best option. Remember that it will pass and that you’ll get back on your feet. Even though it can be hard, it is possible to have an amicable divorce process一it doesn’t have to be emotionally and financially draining. 

If you are considering divorce after legal separation, it is important to seek legal counsel to ensure that you protect your rights throughout the process. An experienced divorce attorney at Monarch Family Law can help you navigate the often-complex legal system and protect your interests at every step.