In most states, couples with troubled marriages can file for a legal separation. A separation allows the couple to reach agreement on issues such as a division of property, child custody, and child support payments, without having to go through a full divorce case. In addition, certain issues can be submitted to a review by a court, or to mediation by a third party. Six states do not recognize legal separation: Delaware, Texas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida.
Separation vs. Divorce
Some couples decide on separation rather than divorce; their religious views may bar divorce, for example, or they may wish to keep certain benefits available only to a married couple, such as family health insurance. A spouse may still request court adjudication of certain issues if there are children involved and the parents are living apart. These issues include the division of property, child custody and visitation rights, as well as the amount of any child support payments.
Florida does provide for a so-called limited divorce, which is similar to legal separation in other states. You can request a limited divorce on the grounds of cruelty, desertion, and voluntary separation. In a limited divorce, a Florida court can establish the primary residence of the children, meaning the residence where the children spend most of their time. The court can also decide visitation rights of the noncustodial parent. To determine child support obligations, Florida requires that separated parents complete a form listing their income and resources, and calculating a support amount to be paid monthly by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent.
Seeking a Full Divorce
These decisions do not preclude other actions that may be taken if the separation leads to a full divorce proceeding. If a divorce petition is eventually filed, the court can again take up the issues of visitation, custody and child support, as well as other agreements such as the division of property. If the couple does not proceed to a divorce, then they remain legally married and still subject to the rulings of the court. Consult a divorce attorney if you are unsure about which steps to take.