How Many Days Apart Equals a Legal Separation?

By Beverly Bird

Legal separation is not typically defined by the amount of time you and your spouse live apart. In many cases, it depends on whether an agreement or a court order is in place that governs the terms of your separation. State laws vary, and you may be legally separated when an agreement or court order exists, even if neither of you has moved out of the marital home yet.

Separation Agreements

Some states, such as New York, do not provide for a litigated separation process. In these jurisdictions, you and your spouse are separated when you create an agreement resolving all pertinent issues and you sign it. The agreement acts as an enforceable contract, and it paves the way for one of you to leave the marital home.

Separation by Court Order

Depending on where you live, you may have the option of filing a petition for legal separation, just as you would for divorce. The complaint may require that you cite grounds for the separation. If your state requires that you have been living apart for a period of time, you would have to meet this requirement before you can file for a legal separation.

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Separation as Grounds for Divorce

If you're using your separation as grounds for divorce, you and your spouse may have to live separately, in different households, to qualify. For example, in North Carolina, the only grounds for absolute divorce are separation for one year or incurable insanity. The separation period begins when you move into separate households. Other states, like Virginia, recognize that you can legally live separately and apart while under the same roof.

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Does Separation Time Count in Divorce


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How to Separate in a Marriage

Divorce isn't for everyone--at least not immediately. For any number of reasons, spouses might want to live separately for a while before taking the final step to officially terminate their marriage. Depending on where you live, there may be more than one way to do this. Some states recognize legal separations, but a few don't, including Texas, Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. This doesn't mean you can't separate if you live in one of these states. It just means courts in these states will not issue a judgment of separation, so you'll have to create a separation agreement instead.

How Long Does a Legal Separation Take?

Legal separation comes in two forms -- separation by agreement, or separation by judicial process. Which type of separation you're eligible for generally depends on where you live. Some states allow for separation by judicial process and others do not. In either case, the speed with which you can become officially separated depends on how quickly you and your spouse can iron out a resolution of the issues involved in your marriage.

Divorce & Legal Separation Laws in Pennsylvania

Technically, Pennsylvania’s statutes contain no mention of "legal separation." This is a bit misleading, however, because the state does recognize at least the concept of legal separation. If you and your spouse can agree to the terms of your separation in a written agreement, the state considers it binding upon both of you.

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