Is There an Automatic Divorce After a Long Separation?

Spouses sometimes mistake a long separation with a divorce

What You Must Know About Long Separations and the Myth of Automatic Divorces

In California, there isn't an automatic divorce after a long separation. Some believe that because they confuse this with California's 6 month waiting period during a pending divorce.

Here is more information to better understand why there is no automatic divorce after a long separation and how the California divorce process works.

At the end of this article, we will also explain why a long separation is important in a divorce case. We will refer you to more resources you can read if your situation involves a long separation.

There is no Common Law Marriage or Common Law Divorce

California generally does not recognize common-law marriages. There is one exception you can read about in the linked article. California is a State where the legal and documented formalities of marriage and divorce are a necessity.

When two people have a breakdown in their marital relationship, they typically physically separate. In addition, they often separate their financial ties by getting separate bank accounts and credit cards, filing taxes separately (married filing separately, to be exact), and often they start romantic relationships with others.

Those things are consistent with spouses who are "separated." They relate to what the law considers the "date of separation" for a subsequent divorce. However, none of those things end the marriage.

Do not Confuse a Long Separation with Legal Separation

Legal separation is a different legal concept. Here is an article you can read about what legal separation means.

There Must be a Divorce Petition

Whether it is a short or a long separation, you must file a divorce petition if you live in California and want to be divorced here. We have great articles and guides you can read on these topics:

The one thing we need to cover here is a situation where another State or foreign jurisdiction may consider you divorced even though you did not go through a formal process. That situation is beyond the scope of this article.

A Long Separation is Important Even Though it Does Not Automatically Divorce You

A long separation can still be an essential factor in divorce, even though it does not lead to an automatic divorce. Here is how.

That long separation may have a significant effect on spousal support

Here is one example. Suppose you and your spouse were married for 6 years. The 6 years is from the marriage date through your "date of separation" we discussed earlier. Also, suppose you and your spouse have been separated for 4 years.

What happens with spousal support even though one of you may have significantly outearned the other during the marriage?

The higher-earning spouse argues the court should not order spousal support because the spouses have been separated for more than half the duration of this short marriage. Note I said argument. It is not automatic that the argument succeeds. So, knowing how long spousal support lasts is important when you look at how long you and your spouse have been separated.

A Long Separation May Also Affect the Division of Assets and Debts or Asset Valuation

I encourage you to read our articles on community property, separate property, and California divorce laws.

Suppose one or both spouses are business owners, and there has been a long separation. In that case, we encourage you to read our article on the valuation of a business in a divorce.

A Long Separation May Affect Other Issues

A long separation also affects child custody, parenting time, and other issues.

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