Getting a legal separation sounds like it should be an expensive and time consuming process, however, it does not have to be. Many people get a legal separation from their spouses while they are in the process of getting a divorce. People can legally separate for free if they do not have enough money to pay the courts in some states. Rules for getting a free legal separation vary from state to state, so check with your state to see what rules may apply to you. You can do this by looking the rules up on your state court's website or by talking to the court clerks when you get your paperwork.
Go to your local circuit court and gather up all the forms that you will need. This includes a petition for legal separation, a financial affidavit and a waiver form to have the fees waived. Bring the forms home so that you can fill them out at your own pace.
Fill out all the forms carefully. Make sure to fill each heading on the forms as this will let the courts know that the forms pertain to your case if the file gets mixed up. Document that you cannot pay the fees by filling out the financial affidavit and the waiver form. These forms will let you file the paperwork for free if you can prove that you are unable to pay.
For one example, according to the State of California Courts' Self Help website, you can get a free separation if you are on public benefits such as Medi-Cal, Food stamps, Cal-Works, General Assistance or SSI. According to the same California website, you can get a free legal separation if your household income, before taxes, is less than the amounts listed on the court's Form FW-001 in item 5b, or if the court finds that you do not have enough income to pay for your household's basic needs and the court fees. You need to check the laws for each state to see if your state also has these requirements.
Attach any paperwork that you have to the forms that you have completed. This may include proof of abuse or substance abuse by the other party. The courts will often allow you to separate legally for free if you are being abused, or if your spouse is an alcoholic or a drug addict. These two things put your personal safety at risk and the courts realize that.
File the legal separation paperwork, your waiver form and all pertaining documents with the court. If you file with a waiver form attached, the court will look over the paperwork and let you know if you have to pay any money. This can often take some time. You will usually hear from the court in the mail regarding its decision on your case. Keep a copy of all the documents that you file for your records.
Attend the court hearings concerning your case. Bring your copies of the documents just in case. Answer the judge honestly and present your case calmly. The judge makes the final decisions regarding your case.