Only a handful of states recognize legal separation -- a separation that occurs when you receive a judgment from the court, not when you just sign a separation agreement with your spouse. Nebraska is one of these states and the procedure is virtually identical to filing for divorce. At the end of the litigation, the court will issue an order for the division of marital property, custody and support. The greatest difference is that with a judgment of separation -- as opposed to divorce -- neither you nor your spouse are free to marry again.
Complaint for Separation
Initiating a legal separation is exactly the same as beginning a divorce -- you must file a complaint with the court. Complaints for divorce are available on Nebraska's court website, but for a separation, you'll have to visit the district court in your county to get a form. You can only file for separation on no-fault grounds in Nebraska, so you must state in the complaint that your marriage is irretrievably broken.
There is no residency requirement for legal separation in Nebraska, so you can file the day after you move to the state -- unless you have children. Under the terms of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act -- a federal law adopted by most states, including Nebraska -- only the state where your children have lived for the last six months can issue custody orders. Therefore, if you have children, they must have lived in Nebraska for six months before you can file for a legal separation.
Serving the Complaint
After you complete your complaint for separation, you must sign it and file it with the court. When this is accomplished, you must arrange to have a filed copy served on your spouse, just as you would if you were asking for a divorce. To accomplish this, you'll have to complete a "praecipe for summons and personal service." This form asks the court to deliver your complaint to your spouse, and it's available either from the district court clerk or from the state's court website. After you complete the form, give it to the sheriff in the county where your spouse lives, along with a filed copy of your complaint. A sheriff's officer will personally hand-deliver a copy of your complaint to your spouse. This begins your litigation.
Converting Your Complaint
After you've filed for separation, your legal action continues to proceed along the same channels as a divorce. If you and your spouse reach a settlement agreement, you can both sign it and submit it to the court for approval. Your agreement will become your legal judgment of separation. Otherwise, you'll go to trial where a judge will make orders regarding property division, custody and support. A contested separation litigation can drag out six months or more, while the court or lawyers determine the value of marital assets, support issues, or the parent who is most appropriate to receive custody of the children. If you meet Nebraska's residency requirement for divorce -- one year -- while your separation litigation is in progress, you can ask the court to convert the legal action to one for divorce instead of legal separation. Your litigation can begin as one for separation, then -- when you achieve residency -- the court can ultimately grant you a divorce instead, if you prefer.
After Your Judgment
If you decide you want a divorce after you receive a judgment of separation and after your separation litigation is final, you must start all over again. You would have to file a new complaint, one for divorce this time. In most cases, the terms of your separation decree would roll over into a divorce decree, unless you or your spouse is unhappy with the terms of your separation order. Technically, if you file for divorce after you receive a separation decree, it opens a whole new litigation, so you can have a court address the same issues all over again and hope for a better result.