Texas law prohibits legal separations. To split, married couples must go through the full divorce process.
However, married couples can enact an informal- or contractual separation. These may be wise options for couples who need to separate but are not ready to throw in the towel on their marriage. It can also be financially beneficial and help with parenting arrangements.
What Is Legal Separation?
In states that allow them, legal separations offer a way for unhappy or combative spouses to live separately and disentangle finances without a final divorce. The terms of a legal separation mirror a divorce: It separates property, establishes parenting arrangements, and can include spousal- and child support.
Some couples reconcile after a period of legal separation. But many others ultimately divorce after a certain time period or after a life event, such as the kids leaving home.
Studies show that legal separations decrease divorce rates. Also, when couples do choose to make their separation permanent, the divorce tends to be more amicable and involves less litigiousness.
Often, couples opt for legal separation rather than divorce in accordance with religious beliefs. In other instances, legal separation is attractive because it allows spouses to continue receiving certain benefits, such as health insurance and disability income.
Texas couples can obtain the benefits of a legal separation even though the state prohibits them. Since the law disallows them, couples who want a legal separation must negotiate a private agreement to live apart while remaining legally married.
Informal separations require no legal maneuvering, but they also carry no weight in the court system. Therefore, any agreements between you and your spouse must be based on trust. No mechanism exists if the other partner fails to live up to agreements.
For instance, a husband may move out of the house and agree to send the wife money on a monthly basis for the kids. However, if the husband reneges on this promise and refuses to pay, there is no breach of a child support agreement or law. To compel the husband to pay, the wife would need to file for divorce.
Likewise, the wife may have agreed that the husband takes the kids on the weekends. However, if she then refuses to let the husband have access to the kids, he has no method for enforcing this agreement except to file for divorce, which would allow him to obtain a court order requiring visitation.
Informal separations can work when the couple can agree on the terms. However, this may be impossible. For example, both spouses might want the children full-time. In that case, an informal separation cannot resolve the matter.
A contractual separation creates the enforceability of terms. Because they are legally binding, one spouse can take the other to court for a breach.
For instance, if the husband agreed to pay $500 a month in child support and then ceased payments, the wife can sue for breach of contract. Similarly, if the wife has agreed that the dad gets the kids on the weekends, he can enforce his visitation rights through the courts.
Contractual separations work for couples who are not ready to divorce but have deeper, more complicated problems than can be addressed through an informal separation. For instance, if the couple has a major disagreement over child rearing, they may find that they need to see the children separately. However, the spouse who is moving out may not trust that he will have regular access to the children.
Because the couple has deep differences and issues with trust, a contractual separation makes far more sense than an informal separation.
Also, contractual separations require negotiating many of the issues that must be resolved in a divorce. Should the couple decide to split permanently, much of the work has been done, making the process easier and less costly.
Contractual separations can be compared to prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. It is a private contract between the two parties rather than a decree issued by a court. A family court judge will never review or alter the agreement. However, if the terms are breached, legal remedies exist to bring the errant party back into compliance.
Your contractual separation agreement may cover matters such as:
- Spousal support
- Child support, custody, and parental rights.
- Division of finances and debts
- Division of assets and property
- Estate planning
- Future wages
Legal separations help couples with marital troubles resolve their differences without a divorce. Should they ultimately decide to divorce, the terms of the separation can simply be made permanent, resulting in a less costly and stressful process. Though Texas prohibits them, couples can still separate without divorce through an informal or contractual separation.
An Experienced Legal Separation Lawyer in Dallas Can Help
If you are interested in a legal separation, it’s a complicated matter, but a resourceful Dallas legal separation lawyer at Aberdeen Family Law is committed to helping you obtain a separation that protects your rights now – and into your future. We’re here for you, so please don’t hesitate to contact or call us at (972) 914-3986 today.