Did you know that January is the most popular month for spouses to legally separate and/or file for divorce? Many experts believe that the month is so popular because it marks a new beginning. New year resolutions are incredibly popular, and spouses who are unhappy in their marriages may decide to take their lives in a new direction in a new year. Legal separation is, many times, the first step that spouses take when they decide to get a divorce.
What is Legal Separation?
Simply put, legal separation allows married spouses to live apart and lead separate lives. In order to become legally separated, couples file a petition with a court in a process nearly identical to filing for a divorce. The petition basically says that the couple is struggling with irreconcilable differences and would benefit from living apart. These irreconcilable differences can make it difficult for spouses to agree on incredibly important aspects of their lives. When spouses are legally separated, a court has the authority to make decisions about child custody, restraining orders, spousal support, child support, and property division. Separated spouses are legally required to follow the orders handed down by the court.
Why Do Couples Legally Separate?
Couples may choose to legally separate for a variety of reasons. Some couples use it as a temporary cooling off period when tensions in the marriage are running high. Spending time apart can give each spouse the time to reflect on their relationship and evaluate their future together. Other couples use legal separation as a way to map out a divorce. Separating can help couples – especially those with children – slowly transition to a full-fledged divorce.
Some couples who separate may never actually choose to get married. Since couples who separate are still legally married, they still enjoy the many benefits of marriage. Separated spouses are still entitled to participate in family health insurance plans, receive spousal retirement benefits, and take advantage of income tax benefits by filing a joint return. In some cases, the benefits of marriage may outweigh the benefits of divorce. Legal separation allows these spouses to retain the benefits of the marriage while living separate lives. It is important to note that since legally separated couples are still technically married, they cannot remarry during this time. A full divorce will be necessary if one spouse wants to remarry.
How Does Legal Separation Affect Children?
When parents decide to separate, children will most certainly feel the effects. It will be important to put a plan in place to help the children adjust. Parents have the option to propose a child custody and visitation arrangement. If parents can agree on an arrangement, courts will generally sign off. Some parents may not be able to agree on who gets the kids, and when. In these situations, courts will step in and determine what is in the best interests of the children. Courts prefer to keep kids in frequent and continuing contact with both of their parents. However, courts will augment custody in preference of a single parent if the child would be better off. Courts will consider allegations of domestic violence, drug and/or alcohol use, psychological issues, and the child’s own preference in making these decisions.
How Can I Legally Separate From My Spouse?
If you want to legally separate from your spouse you will have to go through a formal legal process. The process begins when you gather and complete all of the required legal forms, including the Petition and Summons. You must file your completed forms with the appropriate court clerk and pay a filing fee. Once this is done you must serve a copy of the paperwork to your spouse. Once your spouse has been served, they will be required to answer. Each of you must complete financial disclosure forms to help the court make important decisions about your separation. If your spouse does not contest the separation, the court can sign off on the terms you have proposed. If your spouse fights the separation (and/or the terms you have proposed) the case will need to be settled using mediation or in court.
Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys
Are you considering a legal separation from your spouse? Call the Los Angeles family law attorneys at Berenji & Associates to request a free consultation and learn more about the process. Our attorneys are dedicated to helping spouses navigate complex family law matters. We understand that this may be an incredibly emotional time for you and will fight to get you the result you want in your case. The sooner you call us for help, the sooner we can help you get started on building a new future.