If you've made the difficult decision to move out of the home you share with your spouse, you might consider getting some form of a legal separation agreement in order to protect yourself during this transitional time. This is especially important if you and your spouse own a home together, have children, use joint banks accounts, or have any other financial interests in both of your names.
What Is Legal Separation?
Legal separation is an arrangement in which a couple remains legally married but lives separately, following a court order.
While some states recognize legal separation, others don't. If you live in a state that doesn't, you'll need to file for a divorce in order to have legal protections. Although this might sound intimidating, it's not as daunting as it seems.
The first step is to agree to the terms laid out in a written agreement from the court. Then, a judge will sign the agreement, making it legally binding. This serves as a "temporary court order," and outlines the responsibilities expected of you and your spouse while you're separated before the divorce is final.
If you're not ready to go through with divorce, you can request that your attorney put the divorce on hold. In the meantime, thanks to the temporary court order, you'll still have the same legal protections that couples who live in states that recognize legal separation do.
If you're still wondering if legal separation is necessary, keep reading for eight reasons you may want to consider it.
1. If there's a lot of conflict in your relationship and you are your partner aren't able to communicate in a healthy way, a legal separation agreement might be a good idea. It can help define what is expected of you both during a period of separation and you'll no longer need to argue about who's responsible for what.
2. If you don’t trust your spouse to live up to verbal agreements the two of you make together when separating, a legal agreement signed and witnessed by either a judge or third party can help. This way, you have a document to present in court if your spouse doesn't live up to any part of your agreement.
Take note: Because a verbal agreement isn't legally binding, you won't be protected if either of you strays from what you may have agreed to without a written agreement.
3. If you have children and want child support, a legal separation agreement may be necessary. You can’t enforce the payment of child support without a legal court order, but, if your state recognizes legal separation, child support can be calculated according to your state's child support guidelines and can become part of your legal separation agreement.
4. If you have children and need to set up a visitation schedule, you'll want a legal agreement in place. Not only can a legal separation agreement define a visitation schedule, but it can also define who has access to your children when they're in your spouse's custody, where your children reside when they're not with you, and whether or not your children can travel without your consent. Essentially, it's your first line of defense when it comes to protecting your parental rights.
5. If you'll need financial spousal support, a separation agreement is probably necessary. This can define how much support will be paid and on what date. Once again, this can’t be enforced without a legal court order.
6. If you need to come to an agreement on who pays what bills, a legal agreement can help. You'll want this type of document to ensure you don't fall behind on mortgage payments, car payments, and other shared costs. That way, who is in charge of paying what will be legally and clearly defined.
7. If you share health insurance, a legal separation agreement can help define who will maintain coverage, who will be covered, and who will pay the out-of-pocket expenses that come up if either of you or your children get sick or injured. Without the agreement, these costs could slip through the cracks.
8. If you have kids and you or your spouse plan on dating, you'll want a legal agreement in place regarding what you're comfortable exposing your kids to. That means creating terms about whether or not new partners can come over to the house while your kids might be around.
In most cases, a legal separation is a prelude to divorce. Divorce is more likely to be riddled with conflict than it is to be amicable and the longer you are separated, the more intense the conflict may become. If that's the situation, you'll want a legal separation agreement or temporary court order that will cover all your bases and protect your legal rights should you divorce.