What should you not do during separation or legal separation? This is one of the most common questions that couples often ask when heading for a legal separation. After all, separation is a difficult and emotionally draining process. And in their quest to end a relationship, couples often make a lot of mistakes that lead to costly litigation and hefty legal expenses.

So, if you are considering separating from your spouse, it is critical to understand what you should and should not do during a legal separation. Staying wary of certain things can save you not only from serious disputes but from wasting thousands of dollars in legal litigation too. 

In this article, we have listed a lot of common mistakes that couples tend to make while on their route to legal separation. Stay aware of these common pitfalls and make your separation process quick, easy, and seamless.

However, before we list things that you should avoid while going through a legal separation, let’s first define what a legal separation is. Let’s discuss why some couples opt for it rather than a formal divorce agreement.

What is Legal Separation?

Legal separation refers to the court-ordered separation of spouses, without completely dissolving their marriage. This means that though the couple has the right to live apart, they are still legally married to each other. The court divides their finances, assets, and debts but does not terminate their marriage. 

With legal separation, the possibility of reconciliation is still alive, and couples have the opportunity to give their marriage a second chance. This means that if they are able to overcome their differences over time, they can again choose to live together as a married couple. However, divorce is final and permanent and cannot be undone. 

What are the Grounds to Apply for Legal Separation in California?

You can apply for legal separation under California law on the following grounds:

  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Incurable insanity

Why Couples Choose Legal Separation Over Divorce?

Couples choose separation over divorce due to multiple reasons. Some of them include:

  • to keep their marriage intact while staying apart
  • to enjoy the federal tax benefits that are offered to the married couples
  • to continue to receive the health insurance benefits from the subscriber’s plan
  • to enjoy the social security benefits that increase after 10 years of marriage
  • to meet their religious convictions
  • to support a financially unstable partner until they stand on their own

Apart from these, many couples choose legal separation over divorce because either they are not ready to negotiate a divorce agreement or do not qualify for the divorce residency requirement of California

How Long Can A Couple Stay Legally Separated?

The tenure of your legal separation completely depends on you and your spouse. You may choose to get divorced after six months of legal separation (minimum waiting period after separation as per California law). You may even choose to remain legally separated indefinitely, for the rest of your lives.  

Whatever the case, separation in California is a legal proceeding. One must practice extreme caution until it is finalized, as even a small mistake can turn your amicable legal separation into a contested divorce.

Things You Should Not Do During Legal Separation

If you wish to ensure a smooth legal separation, here are a few points you must always keep in mind: 

1.     Do Not Move Out of Your Family Home

You obviously want a fair share in your family home. Don’t you? So, don’t make the mistake of leaving your family home until there’s a fear for your safety. Or the chance that your spouse could wrongly blame you for marital assault. Not only will it impact your access to your children and their custody in the future, but it will also severely affect your claim to the matrimonial home. Make sure to speak to your divorce lawyer before making any hasty decisions.

2.     Do Not Rush into a New Relationship

Separations and legal battles are emotionally draining and leave one wanting additional support. But don’t let your vulnerability prompt you into getting into a new relationship, especially when your separation has not yet been solemnized. It may further dampen your relationship with your estranged spouse, leading to irreconcilable differences and uncontested divorce.

3.     Do Not Deny Your Partner the Right to Co-Parenting

There could be numerous reasons behind you and your spouse’s fallout, but don’t let your personal differences affect your children. You are parents to your children and have an equal right to spend time with them, unless the court rules otherwise. You can mutually decide on some guidelines that you both will follow when handling children. You can even seek the help of your attorney to make the entire process less messy. With a proper plan in place, you can save your children from having to struggle with the emotional upheaval caused by your separation.

4.     Do Not Involve Your Family Members and Friends in Your Separation Process

While seeking comfort in your loved ones is absolutely okay, you must refrain from getting them involved in your separation process. Your family and friends love you and care for you – chances are they may blame or confront your spouse for your existing condition. This may make the entire separation process unpleasant and difficult to deal with.

5.     Do Not Sign Any Documents Without the Consent of Your Lawyer

Whether you are heading for separation or contemplating the process, make sure you do not sign any paper or document without the formal consent of your lawyer. Your lawyer knows the legal and technical intricacies of the documents. They can protect your rights and obligations and can help you make wise decisions. So, before signing any documents or negotiating a settlement with your spouse, seek advice from an experienced lawyer.

6.     Do Not Make Any Large Purchases During Your Separation

Until you have signed your separation agreement, refrain from making any large purchases. This includes buying a house or a car or splurging money on an expensive vacation. Remember, your spouse has an equal right in all your assets and would want a fair share in all that you have acquired during the tenure of your marriage. Also, with a number of assets to your name, you may end up paying a lot more spousal support if your separation solemnizes into a divorce.

7.     Do Not Dispose of Any Property or Asset

During separation, you should stay wary of disposing of your physical assets without the prior consent of your spouse. You and your spouse have equal rights regarding the assets you purchased during your marriage. He/ she can hold you accountable in court for selling property, a car, or any other materialistic possession that legally belongs to both of you. This could damage your credibility as well as complicate your legal separation.    

8.     Do Not Ignore Your Familial Responsibilities

During separation, it is important to maintain your status quo. While you must own up to your responsibilities at all times, it is especially important if children are involved in the process. Or if your spouse is totally dependent on you for survival. 

Make sure to stay true to your familial responsibilities and try to provide as much support as possible. While it may not look easy, it’s the best way to deal with legal separation harmoniously and with peace. So, if you have been paying a certain bill, continue to pay it. If you have been picking up the kids from their school, continue to do it without a fret. It will make your separation as well as the divorce proceedings smoother.

9.     Do Not Bad-Mouth Your Partner or Share Your Separation Details on Social Media 

These days, it has become a common practice to go online and announce to the world what you are doing, where you are going, and what you are dealing with. While sharing your specifics with your social circle may be fine at other times, sharing details about your separation on social media is a strict No-No. Not only will you invite a lot of unsolicited advice, but the information you post on your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter handles can also be used against you in court.

So, refrain from making any sort of unpleasant remarks or derogatory comments about your ex-spouse on social media, and even in your closed circle. Else your legal separation, in no time, can prelude into a nasty divorce.     

10. Do Not Cease Communication with Your Spouse

Separations are never smooth, to say the least. There is anguish, resentment, allegations, and bitterness involved. But irrespective of how angry or hurt you are, you must also make an effort to retain open communication with your spouse. This will leave room for future repairs in marriage. However, even if reconciliation is the last thing on your mind, peaceful communication will help you and your spouse sort out divorce terms amicably. This is especially beneficial if children are involved in the separation/ divorce process. With open, friendly communication, you’ll see a lot less drama during court proceedings.

Who Should File for Legal Separation?

Legal separation is the best route for couples with conflicting goals or interests in life, who want to live their lives peacefully, independently of each other, without getting a formal divorce

It is also an ideal solution for couples who have differences of opinion but are still hopeful of reconciliation. Couples who are keen on giving their marriage a second chance – not today but maybe sometime in the future – can also choose legal separation over divorce. After all, legal separation can be undone, but divorce cannot. Again, as mentioned above, legal separation works best for couples:

  • Where one spouse is the main breadwinner of the family and one partner is financially dependent on the other.
  • Who want to retain their tax and social security benefits 
  • Who want to co-parent their children and do not want to drag their children into nasty divorce battles 

Is Legal Separation Better Than Divorce?

If you do not want to formally end your marriage – due to children, religious beliefs, or financial implications – then separation is definitely the best path possible. It gives you and your ex-partner a chance to reconcile your differences and get back together as a family. It saves your children from a lot of emotional stress and trauma that divorce often brings along.

It also allows you and your ex to raise your children together as a team. You can even decide on the financial and child custodial issues calmly without the stress of adhering to the court timelines.

However, you must understand that even though you are legally separated, you are still technically married to your spouse. Thus, while you can get into a relationship once you are legally separated, you cannot remarry. If you wish to marry your new partner, you would have to first file a divorce. 

That is why it is in your best interest to be on good terms with your ex-spouse, as this makes it easier to dissolve a marriage without a lengthy legal process. 

Is Legal Separation Mandatory a Requirement for Divorce in California?

No, the California courts do not require couples to file for a legal separation before proceeding with a divorce. However, legal separation is most recommended, as this “cooling off” period gives couples a fair chance to rethink their marriage with a fresh perspective.