How to Become Legally Separated? A Comprehensive Guide

Legal separation is a legal process by which a married couple may formalize a de facto separation while remaining legally married.

An image of a couple getting divorced
Divorce mediator [Photo courtesy of Family Ties]
A legal separation is granted in the form of a court order.

Legal separation may be preferred over divorce for some reasons, such as religious beliefs, financial benefits, or the welfare of minor children.

However, legal separation is not a simple or easy decision. It involves a number of steps and requirements that vary depending on the state and the circumstances of the couple.

Here are some general steps on how to become legally separated.

Step 1: Confirm Your State’s Residency Requirements

Before you can file for legal separation, you need to make sure that you meet your state’s residency requirements.

Residency requirements are the same for legal separation and divorce.

To learn about your state’s residency requirements, check your state’s divorce laws or consult a lawyer.

For example, in California, a married couple can file for legal separation if at least one of them lives in the state.

Step 2: File for Separation Petition

If you meet the residency requirements, you can file for legal separation petition with the court. You can do this by contacting a lawyer, using online resources, or filing on your own.

However, it is recommended to seek legal advice before signing anything, as the terms of your legal separation may affect your future rights and obligations.

You will also need to pay a fee to file your legal separation forms.

Step 3: File Legal Separation Agreement

A legal separation agreement is a document that outlines the terms and conditions of your separation, such as division of assets, debts, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and other issues.

You and your spouse can negotiate and draft a legal separation agreement on your own, or with the help of a mediator or a lawyer.

The agreement must be signed and notarized by both parties and filed with the court⁴.

Step 4: Serve Your Spouse the Separation Agreement

After you file your legal separation agreement, you need to serve a copy of it to your spouse.

This means that you need to deliver the document to your spouse personally or by mail, or have someone else do it for you.

You also need to file a proof of service with the court, which shows that your spouse received the document.

Step 5: Settle Unresolved Issues

If you and your spouse agree on all the terms of your legal separation, the court will review your agreement and issue a court order that makes it legally binding.

However, if you and your spouse disagree on some or all of the issues, you will need to go through a court process to resolve them.

This may involve mediation, arbitration, or a trial. The court will then decide on the disputed matters and issue a court order that reflects its judgment.

Step 6: Sign and Notarize the Agreement

Once you have settled all the issues, you and your spouse need to sign and notarize the final legal separation agreement. This will make it official and enforceable.

You also need to file the agreement with the court and get a copy of the court order that grants your legal separation.

Step 7: Organize Your Records and Execute the Agreement

After you obtain your legal separation, you need to organize your records and keep copies of your legal separation agreement and court order.

You also need to follow the terms and conditions of your agreement and comply with the court order.

If you or your spouse want to modify or terminate the agreement, you will need to file a motion with the court and obtain its approval.


Legal separation is a complex and serious matter that requires careful consideration and planning.

It is not a substitute for divorce, but rather a way to separate legally while remaining married.

Legal separation may have advantages and disadvantages depending on your situation and goals.

Therefore, it is advisable to consult a lawyer before filing for legal separation and to seek professional help if you encounter any difficulties or disputes.

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