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With celebrity splits, how does California law handle separation?

When a marriage runs into trouble, many people believe that the only two choices are to divorce completely, or not. Some couples stay in a marriage for religious reasons, or possibly other concepts (like the kids or financial reasons), but choose to simply live apart.

A couple of stories surfaced this week concerning high-profile (actually celebrity) separations. News has emerged that Dina Ruiz says that she and Clint Eastwood have separated and are living apart from each other. The couple has a 16-year-old daughter together, but there is little information about the separation arrangements (if any) that the two have made. Eastwood’s manager has denied having any knowledge of the separation at all.

The Ruiz-Eastwood news emerged just days after stories surfaced saying that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have separated. No divorce papers have been filed, as Douglas and Zeta-Jones reportedly hope to work things out. The two have two minor children together. It is not clear from the entertainment pages whether legal separation proceedings are involved in either celebrity split-up.

Many California residents may not be aware that a couple may choose to legally separate under California family law. A separation differs somewhat from a divorce, in that there is no dissolution of the marriage. Other issues, such as money, property and parenting issues, may be addressed in a legal separation.

For instance, a couple with children can resolve child custody, visitation and support issues in a legal separation agreement. Financial issues may be addressed, providing potential protection for one spouse if the other is not financially responsible.

People may have varying reasons to choose to separate. But, in California, legal separation is one option. The main distinction is that, while legally separated, the couple remains legally married (and cannot marry a new spouse).

Source: The Star-Ledger, “Dina Ruiz confirms separation from Clint Eastwood,” Vicki Hyman, Aug. 30, 2013