When it comes to a married couple making the decision to separate from each other, it is important to distinguish separation from legal separation.
Requirements for legal separation
There is no law that requires a married couple to live together, thus if they choose to separate from each other, there are no restrictions. That said, they are still legally married and must consider how they will address such matters as property, debts, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support and bills.
On the other hand, a legal separation is a recognized marital status and is one that is subject to legal processes to address property, debts, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support and bills (such as in a divorce). Unlike a divorce, the spouses are still married.
How to file for a legal separation
To seek a legal separation, one of the principle requirements is that one of the spouses must be a resident of the state in which the legal separation will be filed and heard. If pursuing the legal separation without an attorney, you will need to find out what your state’s laws are regarding residency requirements.
Once you have met the residency requirements, you will need to file a Petition for Legal Separation with the court. If you and your spouse have agreed to terms for a Legal Separation Agreement, you will file it along with the petition. In the event one spouse isn’t involved with the filing, the petition will need to be served on that spouse and they will be required to file their Response to the Petition (similar to the divorce process).
Can you get a legal separation?
From this point, whether the spouses can agree on the terms of the separation will determine the remainder of the legal separation process. Disagreements may lead to counter-petitions, mediation, and other actions. Once all of the dust has settled and the spouses have reached an agreement of the terms of separation, the court will review it and if approved, you will be on your way to being legally separated.
It is important to understand that every legal separation is different, but that the above information is a general overview of the process for filing for legal separation. Laws for legal separation will vary from state to state, so it is recommended that you seek the guidance of a qualified family attorney to ensure that you take the appropriate steps to protect yourself during the process.