A legal separation is an alternative to divorce. Some couples who choose this alternative do so as way to bring some closure to a relationship without having to completely end the marriage. They may choose a legal separation for religious reasons or for some practical purpose, such as the desire to maintain one spouse on the other’s health care plan. If you’re considering legal separation for health insurance purposes, make sure that a legal separation does constitute a disqualifying event under your plan.
With a legal separation, you will still have to deal with all the formalities of a divorce, including the following steps:
A Separation Agreement is different from the formal process of getting “legally separated.” In California, spouses that have decided to separate may enter into a “separation agreement,” which is a legally binding contract that deals with all aspects of their separation, including issues of child support and visitation (if there are children), property division and alimony. However, unlike obtaining an official “legal separation,” you don't have to go to court to enter into a separation agreement with your spouse.
A separation agreement allows couples to address important issues that will come up during their separation period, including:
A separation agreement is the result of a negotiation between spouses, which can occur at your kitchen table, in a mediator’s office, or through attorneys for both sides.
Some simple matters may be resolved directly between spouses without any legal help (for example, where the couple has minimal property, few debts and no children), but for most people, negotiating and drafting a comprehensive agreement that will hold up in court is difficult. Because the decisions made in a separation (or divorce) may have serious consequences, it's best to hire an attorney who can ensure that your rights are protected, and draft a valid agreement.
In addition, communicating with someone you’re separating from can be challenging at best. If your marriage is ending, you and your spouse probably weren’t communicating very effectively before the breakup, and it’s not likely to get better now. Although some spouses remain friendly and reach agreements easily, most separating couples can't expect to get too far in a one-on-one discussion before emotions boil over and get in the way of a resolution. These couples need professionals that can create a buffer, and negotiate with the other side.
If you need help drafting a separation agreement, or you have questions about whether you should pursue a court-ordered legal separation or a divorce, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help you decide how to proceed.