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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Divorce & Legal Separation Laws in Pennsylvania


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Procedures for an Amicable Divorce in Maryland

Maryland offers an amicable divorce process for couples who can agree on all the terms of their divorce. This is known as an uncontested divorce and eliminates the need to prove that one spouse was the cause of the marriage's collapse. Further, by drafting separation or divorce agreements, parties to an uncontested divorce have more control over the terms of their divorce, avoiding the uncertainty in having these matters decided by a judge.

Can You Be Legally Separated and Live in the Same Home?

Legal separation is one of those terms in divorce law that varies from state to state. It may mean that you filed a complaint with the court and received a separation decree, which you can do in a few states, such as Ohio. But not all states provide for this kind of legal process. For example, in New Jersey, you can simply negotiate and sign a settlement agreement with your spouse.

How to Become Legally Separated From a Spouse

In most states, a legal separation means a couple is bound by a court order outlining the terms of their separation. The separation agreement will generally include issues of child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support and division of marital property and assets. Each state establishes its own laws and procedures regarding legal separation. Although couples in all states can generally prepare legally binding agreements on divorce issues, not all states recognize legal separation as a distinct marital status.

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