Legal separation is different from divorce. When couples are legally separated, their marriage is still intact but they are living apart. Most couples enter a legal separation while their divorce is pending. During a legal separation, each party is treated as an individual with no obligation to support the other spouse. All marital property is divided and all issues concerning property are handled during a legal separation. Temporary child support and custody orders may also be ordered during legal separation.
Arizona courts will grant couples a legal separation on the following grounds: adultery; incarceration of one spouse; physical or sexual abuse of a spouse, child or other person living in the marital home; excessive habitual drug or alcohol abuse; abandonment for one year or longer or habitual intemperance or ill treatment by one spouse against the other. Arizona courts will also grant legal separation when the spouses have been continuously living apart for a minimum of two years.
In addition to having the requisite grounds for legal separation, the court will not grant a court order for legal separation without other requirements being met. The court must find that the marriage is irretrievably broken or one of both of the parties wishes to live separately and end the marriage and the other party does not object to the separation. If the other party objects to separation, the pleadings will be amended for a petition of dissolution of the marriage rather than a petition for legal separation. Additionally, one of the parties must be a resident of Arizona.
Separation Agreement Provisions
Arizona law requires the parties to voluntarily enter into a separation agreement outside of court. The separation agreement must specify the disposition of all marital assets and set forth which parent has custody, the visitation rights of the noncustodial parent and how much child support is to be paid. The separation agreement created by the parties will be upheld by the court and entered as long as the court, in its discretion, finds it to be fair. If the court finds the separation agreement is unfair, the court will create another separation agreement. The distribution of property through the separation agreement is permanent, however the provisions for child support, custody and divorce are temporary and subject to change at divorce.