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Your physical separation from your spouse, your date of separation and what it means to be legally separated are actually three different things -- but people often confuse them. If your marriage is all-but-over and you've already been living in your own place for a while now, here's what you need to know.

Physically separation is the easiest to define

Physical separation simply means that you no longer live with your spouse. The date of your physical separate may help inform you "date of separation," or the point where your marriage completely broke down -- or it might not. Spouses live separately for all kinds of reasons that don't have anything to do with the state of the marriage.

The date of separation controls a lot

Your actual date of separation is when the marriage ended for all practical purposes. It may be the date you moved out -- or it could be earlier or later. According to Family Code Section 70, your date of separation is when:

  • Either you or your spouse expressed an intent to end your marriage
  • Your conduct or your spouse's conduct is consistent with that expressed desire.

You and your spouse may agree on that date or it can be subject to dispute, but that date controls things like:

  • The valuation and division of important marital assets
  • Spousal support obligations
  • The division of marital debts

A legal separation is sometimes preferable to a divorce

Sometimes, couples don't want to be married but feel the need to avoid a divorce. A legal separation allows them to divide their assets and debts, establish independent lives and resolve issues like custody and support through legal orders without actually getting a divorce. Some couples prefer this sort of "middle ground" to a divorce for religious or moral reasons. Others choose this route out of practical concerns, like the desire to remain on their spouse's insurance.

If you need to discuss your legal options to divorce, find out how an attorney can help you.

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