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Colorado Family Law Blog

What is Legal Separation?

Separating from your spouse and getting a divorce are two different things. Divorce is a legal end to the marriage, whereas separation can occur for just a few days or weeks, and then a couple can reunite as if nothing ever happened. In this latter case, the law is not involved. However, there is an in-between option that allows for legal governance of a couple’s separation without ending the marriage. This is usually referred to as a legal separation.

Why Legal Separation?

The reason couples choose a legal separation is because it gives control to the court to determine issues such as spousal support, parental responsibilities, and various other aspects of their relationship while they are living apart. In most cases, all of the issues that would be handled in a divorce settlement are addressed in a legal separation, the difference being that the marriage is not ended.

In addition, there are other reasons why couples might choose a legal separation instead of a divorce. In some of these cases, their legal separation might be permanent with no intention of ever ending the marriage with divorce. Couples might choose a long-term or permanent legal separation because of:

  • Religious convictions
  • Insurance coverage
  • Tax purposes
  • Social security or pension benefits

Like a divorce, a legal separation can be achieved outside of the courtroom. For instance, if a couple agrees to the separation and wants to work together to create the details of how they will handle their children, finances, and other aspects of their circumstances, they can use mediation to resolve their separation issues.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

  • In many cases, the manner in which the legal separation is handled ultimately becomes the terms of the divorce settlement, so it is important to not rush into anything just to get things moving. For instance, if you believe it will one day be necessary to receive spousal support or other access to your spouse’s financial assets, you need to address this when creating a legal separation agreement, even if it prolongs the process.
  • Also realize that in some cases, such as with insurance coverage, a policy might include language pertaining to legal separation. Before choosing legal separation over divorce, make sure you understand how your decision will affect your circumstances. For instance, some insurance companies treat divorce and legal separation the same, so your current policy might be terminated or altered if it is based on your status as a married individual.
  • Legal separation, instead of divorce, means you are not eligible to remarry. If you meet someone after your legal separation and intend to marry that person, you will need to move forward with ending the marriage.

Legal separation is the right choice for many couples, but your approach to finding the right support system should be no different than if you were divorcing your spouse. This means you need legal guidance, even if you are “just separating.” If you would like to know more about the differences between legal separation and divorce, or you are interested in talking to someone about your situation, contact Michele Cline to schedule a consultation.

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