Steps to Legal Separation

By Leah Williams
A legal separation can be an alternative to divorce.

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Many couples use a legal separation as a way to salvage a failing marriage. Sometimes it is a precursor to divorce; other times it is not. Figuring out what is best is not always an easy decision, but there are ways to protect you during this transitional period. While legal separations do not always lead to divorce, it is important to follow certain steps in the process.

Organize Files

It is critical that all important financial and legal documents from the marriage be on hand. Collect all important financial and legal documents from the marriage, including credit card bills, bank statements, investment reports, deeds and other loan papers. Professional property evaluators can help you get an idea of the total value of the partnership.

It is also important to document any vital information that lead to legal separation. This includes all calls and other correspondence related to the relationship. Detailing the relationship’s demise in an organized manner will help make the first meeting with the divorce attorney a much smoother and cost-effective process.

Deciding the Benefits

Many couples decide to separate instead of divorce to retain the shared medical, social security or military benefits. Others opt to do so because their religious beliefs prevent them from dissolving the marriage.

Depending on your personal situation, you should weigh the benefits of a separation and a divorce and decide which is the best option.

A Written Agreement

A legal separation can also be a cooling off period for estranged spouses. Family legal matters can easily escalate into extremely emotional power struggles.

Before any action is taken, it is important that you get the right information. One way to do that is through a written agreement. A written agreement may spell out the duration of the separation, any attempt at therapy, the amount of contact, distribution of property items, if dating is allowed, decisions about the children and what the next step in the relationship could be.

Know Your State Laws

Many states differ on their requirements for legal separation. For example, in Illinois, papers are filed just like in a divorce case. Both marital parties appear before a judge, and the court may enter a decision on alimony or child support. The only difference is in a divorce, you can remarry; a legal separation means you are still married to your ex.

Hire an Attorney

Whether your present situation will lead to divorce may not be certain, but you should still consult with an attorney. Your lawyer assists you in the next logical step in your legal separation.

You should also educate yourself and use what you learned to help get the law on your side. Resources like the Internet, local legal associations and the library can educate you about legal separation laws.

About the Author

Leah Williams has written for many newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites, including the "Mt. Vernon Register-News" and "Nightlife." She has her bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University and is now working on her graduate degree. Williams likes to write about parenting, arts and entertainment, education and features.

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