How to Separate & Not Get a Divorce

By Victoria McGrath

Some couples separate for a short trial period, while others separate on a permanent basis with no intention to divorce. During a trial separation, you may decide to reunite or remain separated. If you expect to be separated for a long time, you may need to make long term arrangements for who will remain in your home and how your assets will be divided. A legal separation agreement can resolve many unsettled issues after a separation.

Separation Without Divorce

When you and your spouse decide to separate, you do not need to fill out any legal documents to live separately and remain married. Both you and your spouse agree on the terms of your separation, make financial arrangements to cover the mortgage and recurring household expenses, and establish a parenting plan for the children. You maintain the benefits of marriage, including health coverage, pension plans and retirement funds. You can maintain this informal arrangement as long as it suits you, or file for a legal separation as soon as the arrangement no longer works for you. However, you should be aware that you may still be liable for debts that your spouse incurs while you are still married.

Separation Agreement

Living separately from your spouse changes the dynamics of your marriage and impacts your financial situation. You and your spouse can prepare a formal separation agreement that resolves issues pertaining to property division, marital assets, outstanding debts, child custody, child support and spousal maintenance. Once you and your spouse draft and sign a separation agreement, you can enforce the agreement as a contract in civil court. If you later decide to file for a legal separation or divorce, you may need to recall your actual separation date. The separation date affects your financial resources, such as the value of your family home, pension plans and savings accounts at the time of separation.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Legal Separation and Court Order

In many states, such as California, you can file for a legal separation. Although a legal separation and a divorce follow similar court procedures, each results in a distinct legal action. A legal separation does not indicate that you intend to file for divorce, nor does it initiate the divorce proceedings to terminate your marriage. In court proceedings for a legal separation, you and your spouse can reach a separation agreement on your own or through court-ordered mediation. When you and your spouse sign a legal separation agreement and present it to the court, the judge may approve it and merge it into your court order for a legal separation. In this case, the terms of the legal separation are enforceable as part of the court order, similar to a money judgment.

Alternatives to Legal Separation or Divorce

In some states, such as Georgia and South Carolina, legal separation does not exist as a legal option. In Georgia, you file a separate maintenance action when you need financial support but do not intend to file for divorce. The court resolves issues pertaining to child custody, child support and alimony. In South Carolina, you can apply for separate maintenance and support. The judge may approve an agreement between both parties if it appears fair to each spouse and child. Otherwise, the judge determines who lives in the family home, pays child support or receives spousal support. In New York, you and your spouse can each sign your separation agreement before a notary public and file it at the court clerk's office. Your legal separation takes effect after both signatures are notarized, and the separation agreement can be changed into a "conversion" divorce after one year.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
How to Divorce in PA After Two Years When a Spouse Does Not Agree on Settlement

References

Related articles

How to Prepare a Legal Separation Document

A legal separation is a divorce in all but name. It can serve as a temporary solution for couples desiring a "trial" divorce, or as a permanent arrangement for couples unable to divorce because of religious convictions or financial affairs, such as the need for one spouse to continue on the other's health insurance. Drafting a legal separation agreement requires that both spouses come to terms regarding the same legal and financial issues resolved in a divorce case, including distribution of assets and debts, child custody and support, and spousal support. In some states, courts review and grant legal separation agreements, while in others, the agreement stands as a contract between the parties.

Do You Have to Be Divorced to Pay Child Support or Can You Be Legally Separated?

In most states, married couples ending their relationship can do so either by getting divorced or by getting a legal separation. A legal separation is similar to a divorce in that it will result in a binding court order, which outlines your rights and responsibilities. This will include all issues with respect to your children, including parenting time and child support. This means that you can be -- and likely will be -- required to pay child support, even if you are legally separated but not divorced from your partner.

How to Get a Legal Separation in Kansas

While some couples describe a few weeks apart as a "trial separation," the act of moving a suitcase to a friend's apartment does not constitute a separation in the eyes of Kansas courts. Instead, "legal separation" describes an alternative to divorce in which the parties remain married but live apart under a court decree of separate maintenance. The procedure for such a decree is outlined in Kansas statutes and provides for the same type of property division and financial arrangements between spouses that a divorce offers.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

How Many Days Apart Equals a Legal Separation?

Legal separation is not typically defined by the amount of time you and your spouse live apart. In many cases, it ...

Filing for Separation Vs. Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, courts do not recognize or grant couples legal separations. If spouses choose to divorce, the court ...

Illinois Divorce & Separation Paperwork

Illinois courts offer a joint, simplified divorce for couples with no children and limited assets. This type of divorce ...

Step-by-Step Instructions for Filing a Divorce in Kentucky

When you file for divorce in Kentucky, you must decide whether to hire an attorney or complete the divorce documents on ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED