All marriages have their ups and downs, but when pitfalls become more commonplace and a couple finds themselves in a position where major changes need to be made, many couples either opt for a legal separation or a divorce. While a divorce is a proceeding that legally dissolves a marriage and allows each party to go on to embark on separate lives and romantic relationships, a legal separation allows a couple’s marriage to remain intact while the parties live separately.

A couple becomes legally separated when they wish to remain legally married, but live separate lives. The parties separate and receive a court order regarding issues like the division of property, alimony, child support, custody and visitation. Alimony and child support for legally separated couples are gained through a motion “pendente lite,” which is Latin for “while the action is pending” or “during litigation.” This motion is more commonly known as a separation agreement, and exists to protect the parties’ interests until a final decision to file for divorce is made. Separation agreements are very relevant and important, as they take precedent in a divorce proceeding. In a divorce proceeding a judge commonly assumes that the parties were pleased with the separation agreement, and will assign divorce conditions accordingly by simply converting the separation agreement to a divorce agreement.

Far more uncommon than a divorce, couples usually opt for legal separation for religious, financial or personal purposes. Most religions frown upon divorce, so especially religious parties will choose a legal separation in order to continue on with their own lives while remaining married for religious purposes. In many cases couples can benefit financially from remaining married. Maintaining a ten year marriage qualifies couples to take advantage of certain social security benefits, and marriages in which one or more spouses is a member of the military have especially profitable options. Many other times a couple simply needs to test the waters in order to discover whether or not they would like to continue their individual lives on their own or return to the marriage.

An important aspect of a legal separation is that parties may not enter another marriage or domestic partnership. To file for separation, one party must reside in the county where the papers are filed at the time the case has begun. There is no required length of residency for a legal separation. If you are a Southern California resident facing the difficult decision of filing for legal separation or divorce, consult with a divorce attorney in San Diego, such as Tara Yelman of Yelman & Associates, who can help guide you on your path.