A legal separation is an alternate option for couples who do not want to fully commit to divorce proceedings. Many couples who become legally separated don’t want to end the marriage, but they can not continue living in the same home. Living in separate houses does not make a couple legally separated. A court ordered document is required to define the terms of the separation and state the responsibilities of each party. There are some states that do not recognize this type of document.
A legal separation document is an agreement between spouses detailing issues like spousal support, child custody, visitation, and living arrangements. The distribution of debts and assets is also addressed in a separation agreement. Becoming legally separated can protect each spouse’s interest until a final decision is made regarding the fate of the marriage. If the couple does not submit an application to the court regarding their terms, the separation is not considered to be legal. In some cases, the terms defined in a separation agreement carry over into a divorce decree. A couple who is contemplating ending the marriage should treat the separation agreement like a divorce.
Filing for a legal separation is similar to filing for a divorce. Each state has different requirements, and an attorney can assist with the legalities in a specific state. A petition must be filed to the court along with the separation agreement. The agreement should state each spouse’s wishes and guidelines. For couples who are not filing the document together, one spouse must have the other served with the order of the court. The spouse who is served then has a limited time frame to respond to the petition. Any disagreements can be countered until a suitable arrangement can be made. If a couple can not come to an agreement, a mediator or a judge will be called in to settle it. Once the agreement is signed by each spouse, a judge reviews, signs, and files the document within the court. After the separation agreement is filed, it is legally binding.
Choosing a legal separation over a divorce has a number of advantages. Separating from each other allows each spouse to reflect on the problems in the marriage without constantly generating conflict. Many couples who take time apart discover the reasons behind their issues, and they are able to resolve them more rationally. Some couples have religious beliefs that prevent them from getting divorced. A legal separation allows spouses to maintain those beliefs without having to live in an unhealthy or unsatisfying environment. Remaining married also allows some spouses to retain medical or monetary benefits that would normally be eliminated after a divorce.
A legal separation is a binding contract. It should be treated in the same respect that a divorce document is treated. Becoming legally separated may pave a path toward divorce, or it may bring a couple back together. A separation agreement allows a couple to live apart without taking the final step of absolving the marriage.