Estrangement and Separation
Estrangement and separation are not necessarily considered the same thing from a legal perspective. Spouses may consider themselves estranged, yet still be living in the same house. Whether this qualifies as abandonment, separation or living apart for purposes of divorce filings varies from state to state. Physically living apart does not necessarily automatically qualify as separation from a divorce court perspective either. Continued social interactions can negate an assertion that a couple is living separate and apart for purposes of a no-fault divorce filing, whereas living in the same house but discontinuing intimate relations may qualify as grounds of abandonment or irreconcilable differences in a divorce filed for fault. Confer with your local family court clerk's office or consult a qualified divorce attorney in your jurisdiction to determine how the conditions of your estrangement from your husband intersect with local divorce requirements.
A legal separation may also be referred to in some jurisdictions as a limited divorce. A legal separation does not terminate the marriage, and no grounds or reasons need to be stated to obtain a legal separation. Unlike an informal physical separation or estrangement, a legal separation initiates a court action to determine issues like paying child support or spousal support, dividing household bills, and setting schedules for child visitation. Filing for legal separation from your estranged husband can compel discussions about the relationship and the practical considerations that need to be resolved for divorce.
If two spouses are not only physically or emotionally estranged, but also legally separated, they may attain a conversion divorce after a set period of time prescribed by the laws of the state in which the separation has been filed. A conversion divorce changes the court-issued separation order, or court-approved separation agreement, into a permanent divorce decree. A conversion divorce can often be the fastest and most efficient route to a divorce, as the legal separation period has given both parties a chance to work out any financial and emotional issues.
If your spouse is not only estranged but long gone, you may need to use an alternative method of serving the divorce papers. When a spouse cannot be located, most states allow the notice that a divorce has been filed to be served by publication in the legal notices of local newspapers. Some divorce courts may require you to demonstrate that you have taken substantial steps to locate your missing spouse before they will allow divorce notice by publication. These steps may include sending letters by certified mail to their last known places of residence or employment, checking motor vehicle and voter registration records, contacting former friends or relatives, and looking through phone books.