For couples experiencing marital challenges, an alternative to divorce is legal separation. Some couples pursue legal separation because divorce violates their religious beliefs. Legal separation also offers couples time and space to consider reconciliation. If you are considering separating from your spouse, it is important to understand the specifics of legal separation.
In Washington State, legal separation formalizes a separation while the parties remain legally married. Legal separation is accomplished through a court order and is a legally binding consent decree. Legal separation is not a requirement before filing for divorce, and some couples reconcile during this time.
One of the most common reasons couples choose to pursue legal separation is for financial reasons, such as who will pay the bills, who will retain property, possessions, etc. When the court is involved in legal separation, temporary arrangements are made for the following:
- Shared child custody
- Child support
- Division of community assets and joint debt
If you are considering legal separation or divorce, carefully consider the following details and contact an experienced professional who can guide you through this complex process.
Common Myths about Legal Separation
Legal separation can be an appropriate choice for couples who no longer wish to share their lives and finances, but are not yet ready to proceed with divorce. Following are a few common myths and misunderstandings regarding legal separation in Washington State:
Myth #1: You Have to Move Out in Order to Be Legally Separated
When you or your spouse moves out of the house, you are informally separated. To have an official legal separation, legal paperwork must be filed in court. Some couples benefit from separating physically but not legally, while others prefer to legally separate, especially for financial reasons.
Myth #2: Legal Separation is Exactly Like Divorce
Legal separation and divorce are similar, but there are a few key differences. In a legal separation, you are still married to your partner in name, and often you can share some of the benefits that married couples have, such as health insurance and retirement benefits. In addition, you are still considered married within your religious community.
In Washington State, legal separation formalizes a separation while remaining legally married. Legal separation is accomplished through a court order and is a legally binding consent decree.Leah Hill, Founder + CEO, Divorce Strategies Northwest
Myth #3: If We Are Legally Separated, We Can’t Live Together
Being legally separated does not require you and your spouse to live separately. However, many legally separated couples choose to live apart for a variety of reasons. Couples may live apart while determining if divorce is the right next step, while other couples find it easier to separate their finances when living separately.
Myth #4: If We Are Legally Separated, We Have to Eventually Divorce
Many couples who legally separate eventually choose to divorce. However, some couples remain legally separated permanently, while others choose to reconcile their marriage. It is important to understand that because couples choose legal separation for a variety of reasons, their options during legal separation differ.
Myth #5: There’s No Good Reason To Pursue Legal Separation in Washington State
For many couples, legal separation is not the best option. Couples may choose legal separation for religious reasons, or if one spouse needs medical support and the other spouse’s health insurance is eligible to continue covering both parties. If couples are considering divorce but would prefer to start with a less permanent option, legal separation has merit.
Myth #6: Legal Separation is Easier Than Divorce
Similar to divorce, legal separation requires decisions surrounding:
- division of assets and debts,
- where both parties will live,
- both parties’ living expenses, and
- shared custody of your minor children.
These discussions often require the support of a third party who can help you negotiate and come to an agreement that serves the family, and who can help you identify a plan for revisiting the future between you and your partner.
Myth #7: Filing for a Legal Separation
If you have been married for a long time, have complex assets, and/or find working together a challenge, work with an experienced professional who can help you understand the details of the legal process. Although some legal separations are simple, others are not. Similar to divorce, you may not be aware what you are legally entitled to, and you may have questions about asset division. A skilled professional can help you decide whether legal separation or divorce is the better choice for you and for your family.
Five Reasons Couples Choose Legal Separation
The differences between divorce and legal separation in Washington State can be subtle, but are extremely important when it comes to property, children, relationship, and your future. While legal separation is not for everyone, it is an option, as you consider your future.
Five Reasons That Legal Separation May Be Appropriate For You:
- Separation gives couples a chance to continue to work on their marriage. While divorce is permanent, legal separation can serve as a trial run for couples who are unsure about their decision to divorce, or who want the option to reconcile.
- Separation preserves important benefits and insurance policies that would be severed in a divorce. If you and your spouse want to maintain your current health insurance, life insurance, investments, or other financial plans, but want to temporarily sever financial ties, legal separation may be a good option to consider.
- Separation provides an intermediate step between being together and getting divorced. The effects of divorce are often shocking for a family. Legal separation can provide a softer landing for everyone to gradually adapt to a “new normal”.
- Legal separation may be more accepted by your religious community. Some couples choose legal separation because their religious values deem divorce unacceptable.
- Legal separation makes it possible to live separate lives, but stay connected in some ways. Some couples want to live separately but have reasons they want to remain married. Others want to move on but are uninterested in dissolving their marriage. In these cases, legal separation is a good option to consider.
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Our team is available for Support On-Demand to discuss the many scenarios, options, and implications of separation or divorce, via telephone or videoconference during this time. Feel free to get in touch with us; we are here for you!