In order to obtain a legal separation, a couple must express a desire to live apart and agree that their marriage is broken. In a legal separation, the courts acknowledge specific determinations, such as child support and division of property, but the parties still have the legal rights of a married couple. The legal relationships, such as debt obligations and property ownership rights, of the couples do not change. In some marriages, it is necessary for a couple to keep these obligations intact. In other marriages, a divorce is the most appropriate solution, as it will sever all legal marital rights.
Filing for Separation
In most counties, both parties must agree to the separation. Couples must contact the court in the county in which they reside and file a petition or motion for legal separation with children. Some couples consider involving an attorney to assist with the legal paperwork. Filing for a legal separation involves essentially the same process as filing for a divorce. Couples must establish if there will be any spousal or child support, division of property and custody and visitation of the children.
A legal separation requires that couples provide information regarding marital assets and their values. Personal property acquired before and during the marriage must be listed as well. Couples must provide a description of debts and decide how they will divide the responsibility of paying off the debts while separated. Financial information regarding the couples' earnings is necessary to determine child support and spousal maintenance payments, if applicable. Parents will have to provide and follow a parenting plan that outlines visitation and custody.
Legal Separation and Child Custody
Separating couples must make custody determinations in the same manner as if they were getting a divorce. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the separation, sole or joint custody and visitation will be awarded based on what is in the best interest of the children. If both parents agree to share custody, a judge will usually order joint custody. Parents must adhere to the custody rulings or follow a parenting plan to jointly raise their children.
Additional Care for Minor Children
A husband and wife must consider additional expenses related to the care of their children. These determinations will also be made in the legal separation documentation. The parent providing medical and dental insurance or other health-related services must be spelled out in the separation decree. Other expenses, such as those for extra-curricular activities, must also be agreed upon and submitted with the decree.
Filing for a legal separation with children means that a couple must face difficult decisions regarding raising their kids, white at the same time working to resolve marital issues. While a legal separation does not necessarily mean a marriage is inevitably over, it does suggest that the possibility of divorce is looming. In addition to child-rearing issues, separating couples must also face the realities of maintaining separate households, financial strain and the effects the separation will have on their children.