In a lot of states, married couples who wish to live alone as separate entities have the option of filing for a legal separation instead of pursuing a traditional divorce. Hiring an attorney for this process is something that many people will choose to do, but it is certainly possible to do it all yourself. The main difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that when you are legally separated, you are still married. In most other ways it is no different than a divorce, with the division of assets and other financial matters needing to be agreed upon. There are several reasons that couples would choose a legal separation over a divorce, and these commonly include religious, moral, and financial reasons. Many couples also use separation as a test run before filing for divorce.
The Benefits of Legal Separation Over Divorce
Choosing between a legal separation and a divorce is often a matter of personal preference. Some people have religious or personal beliefs that do not allow divorce, so a separation allows them to remain married while being able to live completely separate lives. A legal separation continues your relationship at least to some extent, so you remain connected to each other. If you get a legal separation, you will still be entitled to certain benefits including social security and pensions that provide payments to surviving spouses.
If you get divorced, that decision is final. Legal separations also tend to be on children, because you remain married and it does not sound as devastating and final as a divorce.
What is the Procedure for Filing for Legal Separation?
The procedure for filing for separation is basically the same as filing for divorce. In order for your legal separation to go through, you will need to petition the court that you wish to separate. You will need to prepare a summons that will be served to your spouse to officially notify them that you have initiated the legal proceedings for separation.
Where Can You Find the Forms for Separation?
The forms you need to begin a legal separation can generally be found on your state or county’s court website. Most of what you need can be found online, but if you need additional help your local court office will typically have a self-help center where you can pick up the forms in person and ask any questions you might have. There are also a number of online companies that will provide all the forms you need for a small fee. Certain states may require additional forms, but generally the requirements will be the same as any divorce proceeding.
Make Sure to Be Thorough in Your Separation Petition
A judge is generally unable to award you anything that you have not specifically asked for in the original petition. It is important to thoroughly research and prepare your petition and to be sure you have covered everything that you are asking for in the legal separation agreement. The whole process will go much smoother if you and your spouse agree upfront with what you would like to happen in the areas of child custody, visitation and child and spousal support, as well as what should happen to the marital home, assets, and debt liabilities. In general, a judge will not undo any arrangements that are supported by both parties, with the exception of those that are not in the best interest of the children or are blatantly unfair.
All orders contained in a legal separation agreement are enforceable and any violation of the agreement can be considered contempt of court.
Casey Wagner is a copywriter for A Better Solution, which is an NJ Divorce/Separation Mediation guide created by Steven B. Menack, ESQ., s a highly experienced, fully accredited NJ divorce mediator and divorce attorney that has helped thousands of couples find an amicable solution to divorce. www.divorcelawandmediation.com