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Updated by Lina GuillenAttorney. Legal separation is a legal proceeding very similar to a divorce through which a married couple petitions asks a court to allow them to live separate and apart and end any marital obligations to one another. The only difference is that the couple is still technically married - that is, they have not ended their marital status and cannot remarry unless they get divorced. Legal separation has different names depending upon the state you live in; it is also referred to as a "limited divorce," "judicial separation," or a "separation from bed and board. The length of time required for a legal separation is usually between 6 months to 2 years, but this varies, depending on each state's laws. In jurisdictions without the right to a legal separation, the spouses could simply live apart and enter into a written separation agreement ed by both spouseswhich would have the same effect.


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A legal separation is a court-ordered arrangement whereby a married couple lives apart, leading separate lives. A legal separation is a popular alternative to a divorce when the parties are unsure of the state of their marriage but want to establish financial boundaries and responsibilities, such as separation of assets, custody of dependents, and child support.

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Although the reasons for seeking a legal separation vary, there are some common ones worth noting. Some religions prohibit married couples from divorcing and a legal separation grants most of the benefits of a divorce without compromising religious tenets. Also, those unsure of their marital future may opt for a legal separation, hoping for a reconciliation.

Couples with minor children often cite that a legal separation is more ideal for their children than a divorce. Although the parents function as a separate unit, the family may remain together, maintaining stability and order, for the most part. Another reason for opting for this arrangement is to retain health and retirement benefits. It also limits control over other assets such as properties and vehicles. For those who want a divorce, a legal separation is required in some states before a judge will grant one. If the couple later divorces, judges may consider the details of the separation agreement when ruling on a divorce.

For some, reaching their 10th anniversary is a monumental occasion, but it is also a milestone that affects future benefits. For couples deciding to part ways, a legal separation may keep benefit entitlements intact. For example, military spouses must remain married for a decade to take advantage of the benefits provided by the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. Also, having remained married for at least 10 years qualifies ex-spouses for certain spousal Social Security benefits. If your spouse will draw ificantly more Social Security than you will in retirement, it is beneficial to remain married for a minimum of 10 years so you can draw a larger sum by drawing on your spouse's Social Security retirement benefits.

In spite of the pain from a split, sometimes a legal separation makes sense when a divorce doesn't. For example, a legal separation can be temporary, while a divorce is permanent. Some couples legally separate when trial separations don't work. This may be their last attempt at saving their marriage. Additionally, a legal separation is often simpler and more cost-effective than a divorce.

Do you need a lawyer to establish a legal separation?

Many parents also find that their children are better able to adjust to a divorce if they legally separate first. Legal separation isn't the only option for couples who prefer to separate instead of divorce.

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Unlike a legal separation, a trial separation is an informal decision by a couple to temporarily separate. As the name suggests, couples use this approach when they aren't entirely certain about the separation and want to test whether or not a separation is right for them. Permanent separation is considered by some to be the stage preceding a legal separation. Unlike a trial separation, the couple has at this point decided to separate permanently, and assume there is no hope for reconciliation.

However, for whatever reason—perhaps due to health insurance issues, costs, or just inertia—the couple has not taken action to mark the separation in court. Though a divorce marks the official end of a valid marriage, an annulment treats the marriage as if it had never happened. In other words, a judge grants an annulment indicating that the court does not recognize the arrangement as having been a legally valid marriage.

There are a of scenarios in which a person can request an annulment. Among them:. In most cases, the legal termination of a marriage will result in a divorce. Unlike a separation, a divorce is permanent. This means both spouses are free to remarry.

Trial separation

However—depending on the state where the couple lived and how long the marriage lasted—a divorce also means the termination of economic benefits such as shared insurance, assets, and liabilities. Ultimately, electing for a divorce over a legal separation or vice versa is a personal choice. Factors such as the cost of the divorce, religious beliefs, the shared benefits that come with remaining married, any time-frame thresholds such as a year anniversary for military couples, as well as simple uncertainty about permanently ending the marriage may make separation the correct choice.

When crafting a legal separation, both spouses should thoroughly address any issues about responsibilities, shared assets, or any other situation specific to the marriage that needs to be addressed. If the terms of the agreement are not clearly defined in the petition, the judge won't be able to help you.

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Every petition for legal separation must include the following information:. It is entirely possible to obtain a legal separation without hiring a lawyer. You and your spouse must complete all the necessary forms and submit them to the court clerk.

What is a legal separation?

Most states allow legal separations—the exceptions are Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The separation becomes much more expensive if there are issues that need to be resolved through the use of a lawyer. The length of the separation process can vary depending on the state and the complexity of the agreement, but the process typically takes around six months to a year.

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Spouses are ‘separated’ when one person in the relationship has withdrawn from the relationship without any reasonable prospect of reconciliation or resumption of cohabitation.

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Post-Divorce Finances. Legal Terminology A-E. Legal Terminology F-Z. Table of Contents Expand.

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What Is a Legal Separation? How a Legal Separation Works. Special Considerations. Other Types of Separation. Separation vs.

What is the difference between being separated and being divorced?

Divorce vs. Example of Legal Separation. Which States Allow Legal Separation? Key Takeaways A legal separation is a court-ordered agreement in which a married couple lives separate lives, usually by living apart. The separation court order may specify financial obligations, child custody and visitation agreements, and child support.

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Updated by Melissa Heinig , Attorney.


When it comes to being separated, there a of types out there, but we will be discussing in this article the two main ones, namely, legal separation and psychological separation.


This means that you can be married and separated at the same time.


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