If you're in an unhappy marriage, you may want to separate, but you are reticent to divorce. There are many reasons couples decide to remain legally married, from religious observance to more pragmatic concerns (e.g., continuing eligibility for spousal military benefits or health insurance). Whatever your reason, the important thing to recognize is that divorce isn't your only option. Let's briefly discuss some alternatives to divorce available under California law.
In a legal separation, a couple remains married, but they agree to legally binding decisions relating to child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division—just as they would in a divorce. In other states, legal separation is a preliminary step couples must take before they get divorced. However, in California, legal separation is a permanent status of its own. If the couple chooses to reconcile, they can easily file a motion to withdraw the legal separation. On the other hand, if a couple with a legal separation later decides to divorce, they must file a divorce petition and begin the process all over again.
In an annulment, a petitioner asks the court to cancel the marriage—as if the wedding had never occurred at all. Annulments are only granted under specific circumstances, such as the marriage was made under duress or fraud, either spouse was under 18 at the time of the wedding, or a spouse lacks the mental capacity to be married. If the annulment is granted, then the property is returned to each spouse in accordance with the ownership interests each had before the marriage.
Sometimes, couples are ready to end their marriage but don't want to endure the hostility that can arise during divorce litigation. For these couples, mediation is a great option. In mediation, a neutral third party guides the spouses through informal dialogue so that they can agree on the terms of their marriage dissolution outside of court. Mediation can be used in legal separation or divorce proceedings.