Legal Separation in Washington State

In the world of divorce, the concept of separation can be confusing. It is important to be aware that there are three different types of separation, and all have financial implications for a couple. When considering legal separation, be sure you understand what each type entails, and how to protect yourself, your children, your assets and your future.

Trial Separation

A trial separation is an informal separation during which you live apart to determine if separation or divorce is ultimately what you want. Many couples separate when they are having ongoing marital problems. A trial separation is an agreement between spouses to live apart (often for a predetermined period of time), as you work on either reconciling or moving towards divorce. 

Trial separations can be a good option if both parties are committed to working on the marriage. Having time and space away from one another can give you much needed time to think and gain a fresh perspective. It can also help reduce arguments and help you find common ground. During this type of separation, it is advisable for the couple to be working together in marital and/or individual therapy.

“When considering separation as an option, be sure you understand what each type entails and the measures to take to protect yourself, your children, and your assets.”

– Lissy Des Voigne | Divorce Coach at Divorce Strategies Northwest

Although nothing officially changes between you during a trial separation, because you are still legally married, it is advisable that you and your spouse work with a coach to draw up an agreement that will govern the rules of the separation. You need to consider and agree on details such as:

  • How the finances will work— Will you continue to operate from joint account(s), or will you separate your finances? 
  • Who will pay the household bills during the separation?
  • Will one spouse help to support the other financially?
  • Who will move out of the family residence? 
  • If you have minor children, will you have a formal schedule for coparenting?
  • If you have adult children still dependent on / living with you, how will their expenses be shared?

While your separation agreement will not be filed in court; it will serve as the official rules for you and your spouse to operate within during separation. A mediator can be very helpful in working with you and your spouse to draft an agreement that covers all issues and ensures that everyone is heard.

Permanent Separation

Permanent separation is when you live apart from your spouse with no intention of reconciling. Not all states recognize this as a legal option. If you live in a state that recognizes permanent separation, be aware of the financial implications with this form of separation. In a permanent separation, while nothing official is filed with the court, if you and your spouse have an agreed-upon date of separation, all finances, both assets and liabilities are considered separate after that date.

Legal Separation

In Washington State, you can file for legal separation. Unlike trial or permanent separations, legal separation is accomplished through a court order and is a legally binding consent decree. In many ways, legal separation is much like divorce. Similar to divorce, legal separation requires you and your spouse to negotiate custody, visitation, spousal support, child support, and property division. Unlike a divorce, with a legal separation, you are still married and unable to remarry without an official divorce decree. Some couples choose legal separation first because it feels less “final” than a divorce, they are religiously or morally opposed to divorce, or they wish to retain or provide healthcare and/or tax benefits to or from their spouse.

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

When choosing legal separation or divorce you should understand how they compare and how they would impact your life and your family.

Deciding whether to pursue legal separation or divorce can be confusing. To make a decision, it is important to understand the legal and emotional effects of both possibilities, weigh the options, and decide what is best for you. Working with a coach can help you understand the mechanics and choose what’s best for you and your family.

Understanding Separation vs. Divorce

Divorce and legal separation have similar effects. Both divorce and legal separation create space between you and your spouse. You live separately. Your finances are separated. Child custody, child support, division of marital assets and debts, and spousal support (known as ‘spousal maintenance’ in Washington State) are all governed by Washington State family and community property laws.

Divorce and legal separation both create an important division, and impose financial boundaries that both parties are ordered to follow.

The main important difference between divorce and legal separation is that when you divorce, your marriage is formally ended. You are no longer married to each other and you are free to remarry.

With legal separation, you and your spouse remain legally married to each other; you cannot remarry. You still have the right to inherit monies and share finances. A child born to a married woman is legally the child of the woman’s spouse, unless proven otherwise.

Why Pursue Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?

Choosing between legal separation and divorce is a complex matter of personal preference. Some people have religious or personal beliefs that do not allow divorce. Legal separation allows them to remain married while living completely separate lives. Legal separation legally continues your relationship, so you remain connected to each other. In legal separation, you are still entitled to certain benefits, such as Social Security, healthcare, and pensions that provide payments to surviving spouses.

A legal separation can be a place to start on the way to divorce. Legal separation allows a couple to resolve all the important issues (custody and financial issues) in their lives while keeping the marriage intact, and determining what they really want. If you and your spouse decide to reconcile, a petition for legal separation can typically be withdrawn.

Separation in Advance of Divorce

In Washington State, after six months, a legal separation can be easily transitioned to divorce. With this method, you and your spouse resolve all of the issues by creating a separation agreement. That agreement is converted to a divorce decree when one or both parties choose to do so.

How Do I Pursue Legal Separation?

Couples can separate at any time for any length of time without court involvement. If you and your spouse are living in two different residences, you are separated. A legal separation occurs when the court formally declares that you are separated.

In Washington State, you can pursue legal separation by submitting a separation agreement in Superior Court. You can also obtain one by filing for a separation just as you would file for a dissolution. Divorce and legal separation are both valid options to consider when you are dealing with a struggling marriage. Take the time to research, consider, understand and decide which path is right for you.

Your Trusted Partner

If you and your spouse are struggling with co-parenting, or you’re in the research process, we’re here for you. You need information and you are not alone!

We’re here for you. We help you consider your options, empower you with practical information, and strategize with you how to navigate your divorce. Feel free to get in touch with us; we are here for you!

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