When California couples think their marriage may be over but not sure if this is the right time to divorce, they may instead opt for a legal separation. This gives them time to think things over, to see if their marriage can be saved or they should end it entirely. For some couples, divorce may not be an option, perhaps because their religion forbids it, but they want a separation because they feel they can no longer live together.
Whatever their reasons for separating, couples should be aware there can be financial repercussions if it will last longer than a few months. For example, if one spouse handles the couple's finances, the other spouse should get familiar with the financial picture.
The spouses should also close all joint credit cards. Unless the legal separation agreement specifies who is responsible for debt incurred during the separation, the other spouse could be liable for the new debt. Spouses should obtain new credit cards in their names only.
Having a legal separation agreement in place lays groundwork for a divorce if this is the couple's eventual decision, since these same issues will need to be ironed out during the divorce process. Points the agreement should cover include dividing marital assets, child and/or spousal support and insurance needs. A family law attorney may be able to add other concerns to this list as well as assist in drawing up a legally binding agreement that is in the client's best interests. The attorney also may be able to assist in determining if a separation will suffice until it is a better time to divorce. The timing of a divorce can be impacted by such issues as taxes, Social Security benefits, and health insurance coverage.