Your feelings are completely valid. So are your fears and your questions. Divorce is a big decision. It’s a big deal, and it seems like a big leap to take when you’re just in the “considering it” stage. Couples go through ups and downs, and it’s definitely hard to tell whether you’ve really had it this time or whether reconnection and a reboot is all that’s really needed.
Look at it this way: You met, you went out a few times, you had some laughs, you got closer, fell in love, decided to marry, planned some kind of wedding — how long did that all take? Similar to the way dating gives you time to figure out whether this person is someone with whom you can see yourself spending a happy lifetime, legal separation offers a trial run of life without that person as your spouse.
What is a Legal Separation? Why Get One?
Living separately is not the same as a legal separation. Living separately for a while might seem like the no-hassle approach to figuring your life out, but it doesn’t give you a taste for what divorce would feel like. Being married is different than just living together, right? You’ve got bills and debts in both your names, maybe you have kids, a mortgage, pets, etc. A legal separation can offer rules to live by for up to one year where those tricky issues are concerned, again giving you and your spouse a chance to see what it could all look like.
There may be some practical reasons, too, for not wanting to end your status as a married couple. Legally separated couples are still considered married, which can be financially beneficial for health insurance objectives, certain social security benefits, and income tax purposes. Military spouses that remained married for at least 10 years gain benefits from the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. Couples who hold certain religious beliefs may also choose to live apart, but stay married for the sake of their religion.
A legal separation agreement addresses the same issues as a divorce.
However, the terms of a separation agreement are temporary, while the terms of a divorce decree are permanent. And those terms, by necessity, are often different in the final decree than how they were at the beginning of the trial separation period.
Preparing for a Legal Separation
- You have to explain why you think you and your spouse need to legally separate. You need to file a “Petition for Legal Separation,” which is a structured outline of why you and your spouse can’t live together. The only major requirement is that either you or your spouse must have been a resident of Indiana for six months and of the county in which you file for three months immediately prior to filing the petition.
- You can also request temporary visitation rights, temporary spousal maintenance, a temporary restraining order or a protective order. If you don’t request these things, you will need to work them out with your spouse. Having court orders in place is the real benefit to filing for a legal separation rather than simply moving out. A legal separation generates a cut-off for establishing marital property. Once a couple is legally separated, what each spouse earns or acquires remains the sole property of the person. It is not subject to division in a divorce.
- If you don’t have many assets or simply don’t care to have detailed court orders, you can still request counseling to try to improve communication toward making a final decision about whether to pursue divorce or reconcile. However, a judge cannot require you and your family to get counseling together if either you or your spouse are against it or if there is evidence that your marriage has been a violent one.
- Live apart and see how it goes. Nothing’s perfect, but you may find that the separation helps you and your spouse figure out what you both want — individually and as a couple. If it’s hard to adhere to the rules and accept the physical space between you, then perhaps ending the marriage is not what’s best. On the other hand, you may revel in your independence and find that life is better without your spouse. You get up to a year to decide.
- It’s always a good idea to get advice from an attorney. There are forms that must be submitted to the court, and the formal petition must be properly served on your spouse. All the information you share with your attorney is confidential, and he or she can give you invaluable assistance as you navigate this important time in your life.
We Can Help
Legal separation gives you time and insight. It can serve as a starting point for a divorce case, but it can also get the two of you talking again. If you have questions about marital separation, the New Albany, IN, separation lawyers at Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law can help. We understand the issues and can guide you through these difficult times while ensuring you avoid costly mistakes. No matter your reasons for seeking a legal separation, we will work closely with you and help you make the best decisions possible. We have worked with many families, and we look forward to working with yours. For skilled and knowledgeable representation, contact us by calling 812-725-8224 or filling out our online form. Based in New Albany, Indiana, we proudly serve communities throughout Kentuckiana; Floyd County, IN; and Clark County, IN.