There are many reasons why you may choose to get legally separated rather than divorced, for example:
- One or both of you may hope to reconcile in the near future;
- One of your may rely on the other for health insurance;
- One spouse might like to stay married in order to qualify for Social Security or military benefits on the other’s account; or
- For religious reasons.
Regardless of why you want a legal separation, most states will require you to do more than simply live apart. To be legally separated in most states, you must go through a process very similar to a divorce and which involves the same issues, namely:
- Child custody and visitation
- Alimony and child support
- The division of marital property and debts
The steps for legal separation are as follows:
- File separation papers: You begin by filing separation papers with your local family court requesting the separation and proposing the terms. Your proposal should address child custody, visitation, alimony, child support, and the division of marital property and debts.
- Serve your spouse with separation papers: Unless you and your spouse file for separation jointly, he or she will need to be served with the separation papers.
- Your spouse responds: Once served, your spouse is allowed a certain amount of time to respond and let you and the court know if he or she agrees or disagrees with your proposal.
- Negotiations: Once your spouse has responded to your proposal and the two of you are in agreement on the terms of your separation, the agreement must be put into writing, signed by both of you, and filed with the court.If your spouse does not agree with the terms of your proposal, you can try to reach an agreement on any contested issues of fact through negotiation or mediation. If you cannot come to an agreement, your case must go to court in order to be settled by a judge.
- The judge signs your separation judgment: Once you have come to a mutual agreement on any contested issues of fact, or they have been decided by a judge, the judge will sign your separation agreement and you will be legally separated. However, you will still be married and thus will not be able to remarry.
Contact an experienced family law attorney
The information presented above is a general outline of the steps for legal separation required across the country. However, the laws that govern marriage, divorce and separation vary from state to state.
It is, therefore, imperative that you consult with an experienced family law attorney in the state in which you live to ensure that you are taking the appropriate steps for legal separation in your state.
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If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.