legal separation in family law
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A legal separation is a court order that formalizes the rights and responsibilities of a married couple that is separated but not yet divorced. It is an alternative to divorce that allows spouses to live apart and manage their financial affairs separately while remaining legally married.

Some key things to know about legal separation:

– It is not the same as an informal separation where spouses simply live apart without any formal agreement. A legal separation requires filing paperwork with the court and getting a judge’s approval.

– The process is similar to a divorce with issues like child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division addressed. The difference is at the end the couple remains married.

– Spouses often pursue legal separation for religious reasons or if they are unsure about ending the marriage through divorce. It can be a trial or transition period before deciding whether to reconcile or divorce.

– Most states recognize legal separations though the process and requirements can vary. The separation terms are detailed in a court order and can be enforced like a divorce decree.

When Does Legal Separation Make Sense?

There are several situations where seeking a legal separation may make more sense than diving straight to divorce:

– You want to divide finances but preserve health insurance or other benefits – Remaining legally married can allow you to maintain certain couple benefits even while living apart. A separation order will outline financial obligations like child support.

– You have religious objections to divorce – People whose faith frowns on divorce may find legal separation an acceptable alternative that still addresses critical issues like finances and child custody.

– You’re undecided about ending the marriage – Perhaps one spouse wants a divorce but the other wants to reconcile. A legal separation can buy some time and space to ultimately decide on next steps for the marriage.

– You need protection while working out divorce details – Legal separation orders can provide temporary provisions for child custody and support as well as restraining orders if needed for safety while the spouses work through contested divorce details.

The Legal Separation Process

The process for legal separation includes many of the same steps and issues addressed in a divorce:

– Filing the separation petition – This is done in family court in the county where either spouse resides. The person initiating the separation is called the petitioner.

– Serving the petition – The other spouse must be properly notified, often by having papers delivered by a process server.

– Discussing temporary orders – Either spouse can request temporary orders related to finances, living arrangements, and minor children while the separation is pending. This can help smooth the transition.

– Dividing property – The court will determine ownership of property acquired during marriage and debts that need to be paid.

– Setting child custody, visitation, and support – Legal and physical child custody, parenting time schedules, and amount of child support are established.

– Determining spousal support – The higher-earning spouse may be ordered to pay alimony/spousal support to the lower earning spouse.

– Finalizing the separation agreement – All separation terms approved by the judge are formalized in a court order. Spouses must comply with this order.

The separation order remains in effect unless the spouses later reconcile or one spouse petitions to convert the separation to divorce. Most states require a period of living apart before the separation can be converted to divorce.

In conclusion, a legal separation is a formal process with many similarities to divorce. However, it results in spouses staying legally married while living apart and settling critical issues like finances and children. For some couples, it can be a preferable path when reconciling or divorcing are both still possibilities. Consulting with an experienced family lawyer is recommended for anyone considering legal separation. They can help assess your situation and guide you through the process in your state.


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