Many married couples "separate" when contemplating a permanent split or working toward eventual reconciliation. "Legal separation," however, specifically court-approvedurt approved separation which defines legally enforceable rights and obligations, but does not permanently end the marriage. Legal separation differs from more informal separation because a court must approve and order legal separation. It also differs from divorce because the marriage continues to exist after a legal separation.
Benefits of Legal Separation
Legal separation appeals to couples who do not wish to divorce, but who will live separately and want matters such as child support, child custody and property division clarified legally. Legal separation typically applies to couples who foresee permanent separation, rather than a temporary trial separation. Common reasons a couple might wish to legally separate, rather than divorce, include the financial benefits of remaining married (such as tax incentives) and religious beliefs which may conflict with divorce.
Legal separation offers the benefits of legal clarity akin to divorce orders. Property rights between the two parties are divvied up, as are child custody, child support and spousal support right and obligations. While couples can simply agree to such matters without court involvement, obtaining a court approved legal separation simplifies enforcement of these rights should disputes arise.
Grounds for legal separation typically mirror a states grounds for divorce often including incompatibility, abandonment, adultery and cruelty. As in a divorce, if the legal separation includes child custody, child support, and spousal support conditions, those obligations may only be modified with court approval.
Legal Separation Versus Divorce
Legal separation does not end a marriage. Though rights and obligations of each side are clarified under a courts separation order, the marriage still legally exists. For this reason, people who are legally separated may not marry a new spouse without breaking bigamy laws.
Legal separations also allow couples to more easily return to life together should they decide to reconcile. Unlike a divorced couple, if a legally separated couple wishes to reconcile, they do not need to get married again. They simply need to submit a request to resume the marriage to the court. On the other hand, should a couple decide to permanently end the marriage, a legal separation order greatly simplifies the divorce process.
Legal Separation Versus Other Types of Separation
Many couples separate without the intention to permanently split. They may use a trial separation to work toward reconciliation, or decide to live in separate places. In these cases, legal rights and obligations regarding children, property and debts remain the same as they would in marriage. Issues such as division of marital property or what one spouse would owe in child support might be subject to agreement, but have not been resolved as they may be in a divorce or legal separation order.
We've all dreamed of finding lifelong love, but not every romance was made to last. Getting a divorce can have serious, long-term effects, both emotionally and legally. There are also strict legal requirements that cover everything from choosing a method of legal separation to selecting where and how to file, to deciding how the property should be divided. The divorce process can be confusing, especially without legal assistance.
This section provides in-depth information including articles on deciding whether to divorce, how the divorce process works, property issues that may arise, spousal support, and post-divorce actions. It also includes links to state-specific divorce laws, divorce forms, and tips on hiring a divorce lawyer.
Reasons for Divorce
While some states still require spouses to provide a reason for the divorce, most states now offer what is known as a "no fault" divorce. A no fault divorce allows a court to enter a divorce decree without one party having to legally prove the other party did something wrong in the marriage. Instead, one spouse may simply allege that the marriage has broken down and there's no reasonable hope it can be preserved, and a divorce can be granted with or without the other spouse's consent.
Alternatives to Divorce
Depending on your specific circumstances, you may have other options for ending your marriage besides a divorce. Many states offer legal separations, which can allow spouses to make some of the same decisions as a divorce regarding their shared property, child custody, and child support. This option doesn't legally end the marriage and is generally used when couples want to retain their marriage status for religious or health care reasons.
An annulment, on the other hand, has the same legal effect as a divorce, but does so by declaring your marriage was never valid in the first place. Reasons for an annulment could be that one spouse was already married, was tricked into the marriage, or was too young at the time to legally marry.Property Division
The division of marital property after a divorce will generally depend on whether or not you live in a "community property" state. Community property states consider nearly all property obtained after the marriage as equally owned by both spouses. As a result, the property will generally be equally split after the divorce. Absent community property statutes, it's typically up to the court to divide marital property between both parties. In either case, courts will normally accept a property division agreement if the spouses can create their own.
Alimony and Spousal Support
Alimony and spousal support are interchangeable terms that refer to monthly payments from one ex-spouse to another following a divorce. These payments can be court-ordered or arranged by the parties involved and are intended to account for the adverse economic effect a divorce can have on one party. All spousal support agreements and amounts are unique, depending on the spouses' individual incomes and property, their earning capacity, the duration of the marriage, and whether children and child support are involved, among other factors.
Hiring a Divorce Attorney
Attorneys aren't needed for every divorce, but in many cases legal assistance can be beneficial, if not crucial. With the complex nature of some divorce procedures and emotions running high, it often helps to have a knowledgeable resource for information and a skilled advocate for negotiations and possible court proceedings.