Legal Separation

Define rights and responsibilities while living apart

The dissolution of a marriage can be complex, messy, and potentially costly, especially if there are children involved. Some couples may then choose to file for a legal separation. The motivation may be, in part, to continue to work on the marital relationship while living in separate households. However, there are pros and cons to this way of thinking. Costs may not be avoided by filing for legal separation and in the end it may be more costly.

To understand what legal separation is and how the process works, we will discuss your specific set of circumstance and decide what is best for you.

Why Do Couples Choose Legal Separation?

There are a few good reasons why couples choose legal separation. This includes the following:

Unsure If They Want Divorce

For some families there comes a point where the conflict between them is too large for there to be immediate reconciliation. Yet one of both parties might feel that with time, and family counseling the marriage might still be saved. Legal separation sets up boundaries, guidelines, and rules to help steer the process toward dissolution or reconciliation in a more healthy way.

Financial Concerns

Many couples who want to get divorced simply do not have the money to afford what is a typically expensive process. Legal separation lets both partners live their separate lives, and take the time to negotiate a more amicable end.

Employment Opportunities

Some couples who are going through the dissolution process experience significant changes in other lifestyle factors, such as a change of employment. If one partner wants to take a new job in a different city but doesn’t want to be held to the legal ramifications of the other partner while they are away, they can file for legal separation. This allows both parties to embrace their new lifestyle while taking their time in the divorce process.

Mutually Beneficial

Many families have mutually shared health insurance and other benefits that would be lost or altered in a way that benefits neither party.

What Is A Legal Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement is a critical document for being legally separated. It’s typically less intricate than a divorce settlement and usually takes far less time. It is essentially a written contract between you and your spouse that clearly defines each of your rights and responsibilities while you are living apart. This includes things like:

  • Division Of Personal Property
  • Division Of Existing Debts
  • Child Support
  • Temporary Child Custody
  • Visitation Rights & Rules

 Once the contract has been thoroughly negotiated and signed it is filed with the courts and becomes legally binding. If you do not have a signed separation agreement filed with the courts, you are not considered to be legally separated.

What Is Stated In A Legal Separation Agreement?

A legal separation agreement will start by covering a lot of nuts and bolts information. This including things like when you were married, the number of children you have, the financial responsibilities of each party, and important pieces of communal property. It will then go on to outline rules and responsibilities on key topics. These topics are mutually agreed upon by each spouse before the legal separation agreement document is signed.

Where Each Of You Will Live

 This is especially important if there are children involved as it can factor into school district choice, parenting time, and certain financial implications. Legal separation also requires that you both live in separate residences.

Visitation Schedules & Parenting Time

Clearly defining the amount of time and the schedule that the child will spend with each parent is a critical component in minimizing conflict throughout the legal separation period. It can also help establish a stable routine that will help your children better adjust to the transition. The schedule also designates which parent has the child or children on specific holidays.

Pensions & Retirement

This sets up rules for how much each individual will contribute to a shared retirement or pension plan, or how things like a mutually held 401K will be divided.

Spousal Support

 In a situation where one person makes significantly more money than the other a mutually agreed upon amount of spousal support might also be included in the separation agreement. This is typically in the form of monthly payments that can be made person to person or withdrawn directly from the other person’s paycheck.

Child Support

If one spouse makes significantly more money than the other, or one parent has physical custody of the children significantly more than 50% of the time, the amount of child support will be clearly stipulated. This is typically a monthly or bi-weekly amount that can be paid directly in person or deducted from one spouse’s paycheck.

Bills & Debts

This section will indicate who is responsible for paying which bills or who takes responsibility for specific debts during the legal separation period.


This defines the terms of both legal and physical custody of any minor children the two of you share. Legal custody indicates who makes the decisions such as school district choice, choice of the pediatrician, and other important legal decisions made regarding a dependent child. Physical custody determines how much time the child spends with each parent. While joint legal and joint physical custody is common, the percentage of physical custody can vary.

Personal Property

This is things such as your vehicle, your car, or your collection of sports memorability. Items that are primarily used by one spouse or were owned by an individual before the marriage. Communal property, such as the family home or large purchases made during the marriage are typically set aside for further negotiation during the dissolution process.

How Is A Legal Separation Agreement Made?

If you and your spouse can negotiate the terms of the legal separation or you can agree to some key details on your own the negotiation process can be quick and easy. Though most distressed couples tend to struggle with this concept and will secure legal help from an attorney. Mediation is also a helpful negotiation method that might be done with an attorney or joined by both partners as a guided first step in drafting a mutually agreeable legal separation agreement.

How Long Does A Legal Separation Last?

The Decree of Legal Separation will last indefinitely until such time as the parties reconcile or pursue dissolution of the marriage.

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