There are many reasons why couples pursue a legal separation, including tax issues, health insurance matters and religious beliefs, but the most common is something of a gray area: The couple is unsure if they want to stay married, but they’re also not ready to divorce.
While the reasons for a legal separation might include a mix of unresolved emotions and disagreements, California law contains clear distinctions between legal separation and divorce, several of which involve the date on which you and your spouse separate.
That was then, this is now
State law used to require couples to live apart, meaning that one spouse had to move out, in order for there to be a legal separation. But the Family Code was amended a few years ago to say that the “’(d)ate of separation’ means the date that a complete and final break in the marital relationship has occurred” if two things have happened: one “spouse has expressed to the other spouse the intent to end the marriage” and then the spouse conducts herself or himself in a way that’s consistent with their statement.
The bottom line is that today you can get a legal separation though you still live in the same Orange County house.
Separated, though living together
Why would a legally separated couple want to continue to live together? There are again many possible reasons, including unresolved child custody and child support issues, but the most common is that it’s simply too expensive for the couple to maintain two households simultaneously.
So if a separated couple is living together, the date of separation is important because it’s used to determine community and separate property interests. Community property rights stop on that date, so income earned and assets acquired after that separation date are separate property.
Note, too, that the date of separation is also a factor the court considers when determining long-term spousal support, as it signals the end of the period in which you lived as part of a married couple.