How to File a Legal Separation

signing a contract image by William Berry from

A legal separation is a court decree enabling a married couple to live apart with the same rights and obligations as a divorced couple without the two people actually getting a divorce. The couple is actually still legally married, but they no longer live together and they may request child support, alimony and the legal division of property. Neither spouse is legally allowed to remarry under separation, however. Some states require a couple to file a legal separation before being able to file for a divorce. In other instances, a couple may choose a legal separation to avoid the negative stigma associated with divorce, for religious purposes or to allow time for counseling and time apart that may lead to reconciliation. To be considered legally separated, a couple must petition the court to acknowledge the separation.

Secure the services of an attorney. You can also file the separation papers on your own. It may be wise to solicit the help of an attorney to ensure all your bases are covered, however. After all, a legal separation is a legally binding agreement. Another option would be to draw up the paperwork yourself or invest in an inexpensive do-it-yourself legal kit.

Meet the residency requirements for your state. Each state is different. To find out what the requirements are where you reside, visit your state's court website.

Include provisions for custody and visitation of any minor children, child support and possible alimony, equitable division of any joint property and who will be liable for any current debts. Work out all the details because, not only is the legal separation legally binding, in some instances it can also dictate the divorce decree should the separation progress into a divorce.

Have the petition for separation served on your spouse. This applies unless you are filing for the legal separation jointly. Once served, the spouse will only have a certain amount of time to respond to the petition.

Notarize the agreement. If both parties agree to the terms of the legal separation, the only thing left to do is have the agreement notarized with both spouse's signatures. If one spouse contests the separation, a judge will have to make the final decisions about the separation in court.