(Guest post from a US family law firm) The dissolution of a marriage can be an emotional difficult and financially draining uphill battle. Many couples who are considering divorce opt for a legal separation in order to test the waters before taking the steps to divorce, which can often be an uphill battle. While a divorce is a proceeding that legally dissolves a marriage and allows each party to go on to embark on separate lives and romantic relationships, a legal separation allows a couple’s marriage to remain intact while the parties live separately.
A couple becomes legally separated when they wish to remain legally married, but live lifestyles that are removed from one another. The parties separate and receive a court order regarding issues similar to those they would come across in a divorce, like the division of property, alimony, child support, custody and visitation. Alimony and child support for legally separated couples are gained through a motion “pendente lite,” which is Latin for “while the action is pending” or “during litigation.” This motion is more commonly known as a separation agreement, and exists to protect the parties’ interests until a final decision to file for divorce is made. Separation agreements are not to be taken lightly, as they take precedent in divorce proceedings. A judge commonly assumes that the spouses in legal separation are pleased with the separation agreement, and will assign divorce conditions accordingly by simply converting the separation agreement to a mirrored divorce agreement.
While getting a legal separation in order to allow time to attend counseling or be sure of their decision before a divorce is common, far more uncommon is couples who opt for legal separation rather than divorce entirely. These couples usually choose legal separation for religious, financial or personal purposes. Most religions frown upon divorce, so especially religious parties will choose a legal separation in order to continue on with their own lives while remaining married for religious purposes. In many cases couples can benefit financially from remaining married. Maintaining a ten year marriage qualifies couples to take advantage of certain social security benefits, and marriages in which one or more spouses is a member of the military have especially profitable options.
An important aspect of a legal separation is that parties may not enter another marriage or domestic partnership while separated. To file for separation, one party must reside in the county where the papers are filed at the time the case has begun. There is no required length of residency for a legal separation. If you are facing the difficult decision of filing for legal separation or divorce, consult with a family attorney who can help guide you on your path.