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How Long Can You Be Legally Separated in California

How Long Can You Be Legally Separated in California

When a marriage begins to deteriorate, couples may choose to separate rather than immediately proceed with a divorce. This period of separation provides individuals with an opportunity to assess their feelings, consider their options, and potentially work towards reconciliation. In California, legal separation is a recognized status, offering couples an alternative to divorce. But how long can you be legally separated in California? Let’s explore this question in detail.

Legal Separation in California

Legal separation is a legal process that allows couples to live apart while still remaining married. It involves obtaining a court order that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse during the separation period. Similar to a divorce, legal separation addresses key issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and division of assets and debts. However, unlike a divorce, legal separation does not terminate the marital status of the couple.

Duration of Legal Separation

There is no specific time limit for how long you can be legally separated in California. The duration of a separation depends on the circumstances and the intentions of the couple involved. Some couples may choose to remain legally separated indefinitely, while others may use the separation period to reassess their relationship, eventually reconciling or proceeding with a divorce.

Legal separation can be an excellent option for couples who have religious or personal beliefs that oppose divorce. It allows them to maintain their marital status while still addressing the practical and financial aspects of living apart. Additionally, legal separation can be beneficial for couples who prefer to retain certain benefits of marriage, such as healthcare coverage or tax benefits.

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Conversion to Divorce

While legal separation can be a long-term arrangement, it is essential to note that it can be converted into a divorce if either spouse decides to terminate the marriage entirely. In California, either spouse has the right to convert a legal separation into a divorce by filing a request with the court. This conversion typically involves submitting a new set of divorce papers and paying the associated fees. Once the court approves the request, the legal separation becomes a divorce, and the couple’s marital status is terminated.


Q: Do I need a lawyer to obtain a legal separation in California?
A: Technically, you do not need a lawyer to obtain a legal separation. However, it is highly recommended to seek legal counsel, as the process can be complex, especially when addressing issues such as child custody, support, and property division.

Q: Can I date other people while legally separated in California?
A: Yes, you are free to date other people while legally separated in California. However, it is important to be mindful of the potential impact it may have on child custody or spousal support issues.

Q: Will my legal separation automatically convert to a divorce after a certain period?
A: No, legal separation does not automatically convert to a divorce. It requires one of the spouses to file a request for conversion with the court.

Q: Can I reconcile with my spouse after obtaining a legal separation?
A: Yes, legal separation allows couples the opportunity to reconcile. If both spouses agree to terminate the separation and resume their marital relationship, they can do so without any legal obstacles.

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Q: How long does it take to obtain a legal separation in California?
A: The timeline for obtaining a legal separation can vary depending on various factors, including the complexity of the issues involved and the court’s schedule. On average, it can take several months to finalize a legal separation.


Legal separation offers couples in California an alternative to divorce, allowing them to live apart while remaining married. The duration of a legal separation is flexible and can be determined by the couple’s needs and intentions. However, it is important to note that legal separation can be converted into a divorce if either spouse decides to terminate the marriage. If you are considering a legal separation, it is advisable to consult with a family law attorney to ensure your rights and interests are protected throughout the process.

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