Legal separation or divorce: What can it mean for a couple?The ways to end a marriage are nearly as diverse as the ways to get married nowadays. One of these ways is legal separation.
What does it mean and why should a couple consider a legal separation?
A legal separation can offer a way for a couple to be apart and try to settle their differences without divorcing. In a legal separation, the couple is separated, but they are still legally married. Generally, it takes the form of a couple living apart from each other. Sometimes, they legally separate on moral or religious grounds because they do not believe in divorce. It's also a way for a couple to -- while apart -- consider whether or not divorce should be the next step. One advantage is that it does allow the couple to carry on with medical, military, disability and tax benefits.
The legal separation process
If you're considering a legal separation, you'll need a court order that lays out each person's rights. Make sure you and your partner draft something you'd be comfortable with not only through the separation but if the separation moves into divorce -- as courts sometimes use the legal separation agreement as the basis for the divorce agreement. Note that the following states don't recognize a legal documentation of separation: Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In these states, attorneys are limited as to what they can do to protect the couple while they are separated. Sometimes, couples in these states decide to have an attorney draft a partition and exchange agreement where -- the couple still stays legally married -- but perhaps their finances are quite complicated so they divide their financial assets and property and register it in the county they reside. Other than this, they are limited in these states -- i.e. the legal status is either divorce or not divorced.
What if children are involved?
A legal separation not only addresses your division of assets, it can also address anything that may have to do with children -- like custody and your schedules for child visitation. You should note that a legal separation can take just as long and cost as much as a divorce, but it does give you an option if you have a moral or religious disagreement with the concept of divorce or if you'd like to try a period of time apart from each other toward reconciliation. In any scenario, each couple should take time to prepare your children appropriately for the change in the family.
If legal separation is followed by a divorce
You should keep in mind that, with a legal separation, you are establishing a precedent for the decisions you make -- around finances, your property, your children. If you and your partner decide to legally divorce after a legal separation, you'll go back to court of file for divorce and the items that you decided upon for your separation may stick for the divorce and be accepted by the courts. So, you both as a couple should consider if you could permanently live with whatever you are deciding for your separation as it may become precedent and the permanent agreement in your divorce. Always consult with an attorney before entering into a legal separation so you're drafting an agreement you will be satisfied with afterwards if it moves to a divorce.
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