If you've made the difficult decision to move out of the home you share with your spouse, then you've probably agreed on a verbal separation. However, if you don't intend to continue your relationship, you might want to consider getting a legal separation to protect yourself during this transition. Making your split legal is especially important if you and your spouse own a home together, have children, use joint bank accounts, or have any other financial interests that are in both of your names.
What Is Legal Separation?
A legal separation is an arrangement in which a couple lives separately, following a court order. There are usually additional conditions as well. Unlike divorce, a legal separation does not end the marriage.
While most states recognize legal separation, six don't. If you live in Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, or Texas, you'll need to file for divorce to gain access to legal protections. Although this might sound intimidating, it may be what's best for you, and therefore, worth doing.
If you're wondering if legal separation is necessary, here are five reasons you may want to consider it.
There's a Lot of Conflict
If you and your partner aren't able to communicate in a healthy way, a legal separation might be a good idea. It can help define boundaries and minimize your opportunities to engage in arguments. Not to mention, having physical space could give both of you the peace of mind you need to have productive and non-combative discussions moving forward.
A Verbal Separation May Not Be Enough
You will probably come up with a few key points or rules when you and your spouse start talking about separating. This conversation, which occurs in the absence of a judge and witnesses, is called a verbal separation, and it is not legally binding.
If you're concerned that he won't be able to keep the promises you agreed on during those early discussions, you may want to get a legal separation. That way, if he still doesn't live up to any part of your agreement, you have more legal standing to negotiate the terms of your separation.
If you aren't ready to get divorced, but you live in one of the six states that don't recognize legal separations, you don't have file for divorce just yet. Your attorney can put the divorce on hold, and you'll still have the same legal protections as couples who live in states that recognize legal separation.
You Need Financial Support
Even if you and your spouse hold up your ends of the verbal separation agreement, you may still need a legal one—especially if you have children. Without a lawful agreement, you won't be able to get child support if your spouse doesn't want to give it to you. However, if you decide to legally separate, the court will calculate an appropriate amount of child support and add it to your agreement.
These same principles apply for spousal support, which you can't enforce without the legal document.
Child Visitation Schedules Are Unclear
A legal separation agreement is your first line of defense when it comes to protecting your parental rights. If you have children and want to set up an official visitation schedule, this type of document will help enforce who sees your children and when. For instance, you can include such clauses as where your children stay when they're not with you and whether they can travel without your consent.
Your Spouse May Date Other People
What are you comfortable exposing your kids to? If your spouse is dating other people (a point you should discuss during the verbal separation agreement), you can include a clause in the legal contract stating that their new partner cannot come to the house if your kids are there. Of course, you can revisit this clause if your spouse becomes more seriously involved with someone else.