Indiana law provides couples with two options if they want to end or change their marital relationship: dissolution of marriage, which is a divorce, or legal separation. A dissolution of marriage officially ends a marriage, while a legally separation simply allows the couple to live apart for a specified amount of time to decide whether they want to save the marriage or divorce. Before seeking a legal separation, it’s essential to know the rights and responsibilities of each party.
Status and Residency
In Indiana, to obtain a legal separation, one of the parties must file a Petition for a Legal Separation. The petition must include the reasons why the parties cannot live together. The law requires that at least one of the parties be a resident of Indiana for at least six months and the petitioner has been a resident of the county where the petition is filed for at least three months. While separated, the parties remain legally married; each spouse will continue to enjoy the same legal rights as someone who is married but not separated.
Legal separation is not a final or permanent status in Indiana. The court can only grant a legal separation for up to one year. After that time, the couple must either file for divorce or return to their marriage. If a couple has already filed for divorce, they may not petition for a legal separation while the divorce is pending.
Grounds, Custody and Support
Couples who wish to separate in Indiana must petition a family law court for recognition of their separated status. They must provide grounds for the separation and show that living together is not fair or tolerable to the parties. A court may grant the separation as well as temporary orders of child custody and support payments from one spouse to the other. The court may also order counseling with the goal of saving the marriage.
Property and Debts
Indiana law allows a family law court to draw up temporary orders regarding division of property between separated spouses. During the separation, both spouses are still liable for any debts contracted by either spouse, including personal debts contracted by one party without the knowledge of the other. In contrast, divorce agreements finalize the liability of each spouse for debts contracted during the marriage.