We helped a Berkeley couple, “Brad” and “Sonya”, get a Legal Separation four years ago. They’d been married for eight years and had two young children. Their relationship had become increasingly troubled, yet they were not ready for Divorce; rather, they believed that taking the steps to legally separate was the right solution for their family at that time. Just as with Divorce, a Legal Separation requires division of property and a parenting plan. Brad and Sonya were both professionals generating good incomes, and they agreed that Sonya would get the house, and be responsible for refinancing it in her name alone. They shared custody of their two children, but since the kids spent 70% of their time with their mother, Brad agreed to pay child support.
Four years later, they were ready to get a Divorce
The four years of Brad and Sonya’s legal separation did nothing to repair their relationship, and they agreed that it was time to get divorced. Over the period of their separation, both spouses had been promoted, increasing their salaries. Both had made investments, and Sonya had inherited her grandmother’s Tahoe cabin. They had never executed a Deed transferring the home to Sonya, so we immediately prepared a Deed transferring the property to her, enabling her to refinance the family’s home.
Once a legal separation is finalized, the case is closed . . . but a couple is still married, with the responsibilities of a married couple
Legally separated couples need to keep in mind that even if they are officially separated, they’re still married. If, like Brad and Sonya, they decide to divorce, they must start a brand new case and prepare new documents. If a couple wants to keep their agreement the same, the documents can reference their previous judgment, but if they want to make additions or changes to the division of assets or the parenting plan, they must submit a new agreement.
While a separation can take just a few months (effective as soon as the judge signs the document), California legally requires a minimum of six months and one day from the date the spouse is served for a divorce to be official. Some legally separated clients who proceed with a Divorce are surprised that they can’t simply sign off on the change of status, and Brad and Sonya’s case clearly illustrates why this wouldn’t be the best course of action, even if it were possible. Circumstances can change dramatically over the course of an extended separation—for better and for worse, which necessitates revisiting a couple’s collective assets and debt and how they plan to share in the raising of their children.