Your relationship just isn’t what it used to be, and you feel the need for time away from your spouse. However, divorce seems too final, and you aren’t sure if you want to go that route. After all, with a little time apart, you might be able to work out your differences and salvage your marriage.
In Washington State, you have a legal alternative to divorce when you are facing marital issues. That option is called legal separation. If you think you could reconcile with your spouse, or if you have other reasons to oppose divorce, legal separation might be a viable option for you.
While you likely didn’t expect to reach this kind of impasse in your marriage, it’s a part of the human condition to experience unexpected bumps in the road. The unpredictability of life is something we must all face at one time or another. Luckily, there are options available to us when we do.
Legal separation is similar to divorce in that it gives you time and space away from your spouse. However, you will still be legally married. Your living arrangements and your finances will be separate, and you have the opportunity to set formal boundaries between the two of you.
A legal separation is accomplished through a court order and is legally binding. Later, you can choose to return to your marriage by having the order dissolved. Alternatively, you can choose to move forward with getting a divorce.
Many people think of legal separation as a step toward getting a divorce. However, it’s an alternative to divorce. Like divorce, you make agreements regarding assets, custody, parenting plans, and financial responsibilities.
The process of obtaining a legal separation and divorce is similar. However, there are some notable differences. For example, the stigma that is attached to divorce isn’t there with legal separation. If your religious beliefs prohibit divorce, a legal separation might be a good alternative.
Divorced people have the option to remarry, but people who are legally separated don’t have that option. You and your spouse will still be legally married during your legal separation. You must legally divorce your spouse before you can remarry.
In Washington State, you must wait 90 days from the time the divorce petition is filed until you are divorced. This waiting period is in place in case the spouses change their minds and decide they don’t want to divorce. A legal separation doesn’t have this kind of waiting period.
In a legal separation, you are allowed to continue using health insurance benefits provided by your spouse’s employer. You also retain tax benefits of being married as well as Social Security benefits.
Legal separation and divorce are alike in many ways. Either one gives you space from your spouse. Basically, your lives move forward separately in much the same way. In a legal separation, though, you are still legally married.
Since you are still legally married, any time you are asked for your marital status, like when completing forms, you would respond with married. Remaining married but separated also allows you to retain your right to inherit from each other.
Legal separation can be the ideal solution if you simply want space from your spouse to determine where you are going in your marriage and your life. If you choose to begin living together again as a married couple, you simply request that the court end the separation.
Legally separated couples can choose to continue living in the same house. It isn’t common for couples to choose to live together when they are separated. However, some people choose to remain in the same house to work on their problems while not being legally responsible for each other financially.
You and your spouse will need to make some decisions that create the terms of your legal separation. If you’re unable to agree with your spouse, the court will make the decision for you. The court’s decision will be made as fairly as possible. Your separation arrangements should include provisions for the following things:
Pay careful attention to the details of the arrangement you want before putting them into your separation documents. Changing the details later will require a hearing to determine if there is an adequate reason to change the provisions of the agreement.
You may want the benefits of separation without having to endure the legal process of going through the court system. In that case, you might consider a trial separation. A trial separation means that you and your spouse want to live apart while you work on your issues.
In Washington State, you need to establish a time to meet in court to determine agreements regarding things like custody and asset division. Without involving the courts, there is no legal recourse to enforce the agreement if the parties deviate from their agreement. You can, of course, decide to proceed with legal separation or divorce.
When you decide to file for legal separation or divorce, you will need a separation contract. This document is legally binding, and it details the terms and conditions of your separation. Having the separation contract helps to prevent you from wasting time on unnecessary court actions.
Before you sign the separation contract, you must understand every point. If you have an issue later, you must prove why the part you don’t agree with was unfair. You must also explain why you signed the agreement if you didn’t agree with or understand it. Your explanations would be presented through an appeals process which can be a lengthy and expensive undertaking.
If you and your spouse decide you want to reunite, you must petition the court for a termination of the separation agreement. Because it’s a legal document, you can’t just start ignoring it and resume your marriage. Your separated status will remain in effect until the courts agree to end your separation.
Legal separation, like divorce, changes your marital status. For your protection, you should have an experienced divorce attorney available to advise you during the process. Some states require that each individual have their own attorney instead of retaining a family attorney to represent them both.
An attorney can help you navigate the process of filing for legal separation. Remember, with a legal separation. You must also divide assets and determine custody arrangements, so the stakes are high. Not to mention, you must determine how to separate your life from that of your spouse while acting in the best interests of your children. An attorney can help you to make the decisions required so that you aren’t leaving anything up to the judge.
In Washington State, a legal separation can be converted to a divorce decree. Either party has the right to convert the separation, and the other party can’t object to the conversion. The conversion can’t happen within six months of your legal separation.
In addition to the time constraint, if you’ve created any written agreements like providing health insurance for your spouse, your conversion could be rejected. There’s no filing fee to petition for a conversion. If your conversion is approved, the decree for legal separation simply gets renamed a decree of dissolution of marriage, and nothing else within the separation agreement gets changed.
If your marriage is on the rocks, you have an option available to you other than divorce. You can opt to file for a legal separation instead. Whether you choose to file for a legal separation or a divorce, contact the attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm to discuss your options in Washington State.