Decide if legal separation is best for you and your spouse. If you're not sure you need a formal arrangement, don't start the process. A legal separation can be just as binding as divorce, so if you're looking for some time apart to sort through some issues, you do not need to and should not make the separation legal.
Find a lawyer. He can answer questions about the laws in your state, how to start the process and what you need to consider. Every state should have a bar association website that can refer you to family lawyers in your area.
You do not need a lawyer to file the paperwork, but it will make the process smoother and less of a hassle for you.
Talk to your spouse about the terms of the legal separation agreement. This is not required for a settlement agreement any more than it would be with a divorce agreement, but it will make the process much simpler and much less expensive. If you are on good terms, talk through questions of alimony, child support, custody and visitation, division of assets and liabilities and other issues that come with legal dissolution of a relationship, you will save time and money when the agreement goes before a judge.
If you and your spouse can't talk about it or don't agree on the terms, you can file a petition separately, your spouse can file a separate petition, and then you allow the judge to referee the agreement and mediation.
File the paperwork with the district court in whose boundaries you live; the court will serve the petition on your spouse. Assuming both of you have already agreed to the petition, a judge will likely sign it and grant you the legal separation. If you haven't agreed, a mediator, lawyer or the judge will work through all the details.
Make a list of utilities, property deeds, leases and contracts, and call each one to get your name removed; also freeze all joint credit accounts. This may be time-consuming but should not be difficult.
Also collect copies of tax records, medical and banking information and other documents that affect you financially.
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images