How To File For Legal Separation

Separating from Your Spouse

Sometimes, when marital problems arise, a legal separation is the best choice. Depending on the circumstances, couples choose legal separation for a variety of reasons. Some troubled couples have religious reasons, whereas others feel they may be able to patch up the relationship given some time apart. In some cases, couples don’t want to give up health insurance under a joint plan; in others, the couple is required by the state to legally separate prior to filing for divorce.

When you are convinced your marriage cannot be saved, before moving out or doing anything else, have legal separation documents drawn up by an attorney so you can best protect yourself in the upcoming trying and stressful times ahead.

About Legal Separations

  • In a legal separation, the couple remains legally married
  • As in divorce, the court sets provisions for property division, allocation of debt, child custody, and child support
  • Agreements made during a legal separation may determine what happens should the couple decide to divorce
  • Community property rights terminate in a legal separation
  • A legal separation does not protect a spouse from abuse. Protection from abuse can only be obtained through a restraining order.

Separating from Your Spouse: Tips for Moving Out

When you are convinced your marriage cannot be saved, before moving out or doing anything else, have legal separation documents drawn up by an attorney so you can best protect yourself in the upcoming trying and stressful times ahead. Once those are completed and signed, if you are the one moving out, below is a tip sheet to help guide you through this next phase of your divorce:

  • If you are renting, have your name taken off the lease otherwise you may be held responsible for both the rent there and the rent in your new place.
  • Remove your name from all of the utilities (cable, phone, trash, electric, water, etc.) or you could be held responsible for them as well.
  • Forward your mail to a PO box, a close friend, or a relative. Don’t let your mail accumulate at your old residence.
  • Cancel or freeze all joint credit accounts because you are legally responsible for any debt that accrues. Both of you should get separate credit cards.
  • Make sure to jot down all addresses, phone numbers, account numbers pertaining to things like mortgages, bank and credit card accounts, insurance policies, pensions, or any other financial arrangements you or your spouse might have or share.
  • Take with you a copy of all tax records of the last 6 years.
  • List what is in the safety deposit boxes and take photos for your records. Be sure to remove any personal items that are yours.
  • Pack up anything you own that you will want later or things you’ll need to set up housekeeping at your new place.

This includes medication, clothes, shoes, pictures, family heirlooms, mementos, school and medical records, dishes, phones, cleaning supplies, your computer, office supplies, towels, bedding, sports gear, and outdoor equipment.

Remember that what you don’t take with you may not be accessible to you in the future. If there is a disputed item, it is best to leave it there, take a photograph, and make a note that this is one you would like in the final settlement.

Legal Help

You may choose to pursue a legal separation on your own, but an experienced family law attorney can help you maximize your legal rights. Consider the following:

  • A lawyer will guide you through the whole legal separation process in compliance with all your local laws.
  • A lawyer can draw up a separation agreement for you. If you proceed without a lawyer, you will have to find, fill out, and file your own separation papers.
  • If one spouse does not agree to the legal separation, the case goes to court. A lawyer will help you through courtroom proceedings.
  • Legal separations set precedence. This means that any decisions and mistakes you make in the course of your legal separation can determine what happens with your children, home, debt, or other property in the event of a divorce. A lawyer can help ensure your rights are protected throughout the entire process.

Many individuals shy away from hiring an attorney to help with a legal separation out of fear of costs. However, many family law attorneys offer reasonable rates and a free initial consultation.

File for Legal Separation

In most states, you must first prove that your marriage is either permanently broken or that one spouse wants to live separate and apart from the other. You can do this by filing a verified petition and providing additional documents. At this point, if both spouses do not agree to be legally separated, the case will go to court.

From here on out, procedures vary state-by-state and case-by-case. Specific advice can be given only by those who are intimately familiar with your state regulations and procedures, so it is highly recommended that you seek professional legal advice.

To learn more about how to file for legal separation, please contact us for a free consultation with a skilled and experienced family law attorney near you.