If an individual files for separation, legal separation will occur prior to filing for divorce. Once you are divorced, you cannot file for legal separation. Many couples will file for legal separation prior to filing for divorce, while others may file for legal separation but never file for divorce.
A legal separation can take just as long to complete as a divorce and can be just as costly. One spouse will file a Petition for Legal Separation and serve the other spouse with a copy of the petition. The spouse filing the petition must pay a filing fee. Next, the spouses will appear before a judge, who will divide their assets and debts. In addition, the court will determine the same issues as those involved in a divorce: custody, visitation rights and child and spousal support.
Obtaining a legal separation has many significant consequences. For example, just as in a divorce, any earnings acquired following a legal separation belong to the spouse who earned the income. In addition, any debt acquired by either spouse belongs to that spouse alone, and the other spouse is not responsible for repaying any portion of that debt.
Depending on the state in which you reside, you may be able to live with your spouse after the two of you are legally separated. For example, California permits a legally separated couple to share a home. However, some states may not recognize the legal separation if the couple continues to live together.
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