Divorce, separation, legal separation – they don't all mean the same things. Sometimes a married couple will say that they are "separated" because one spouse moved out of the home, but neither spouse has filed for the divorce yet. In this case, the couple is not "legally separated," there is a difference and not all states allow for a "legal separation."
California for example, allows married couples to become legally separated. In order to become legally separated, a case has to be filed with the local family court. In states that recognize a legal separation, the process is very similar to a divorce. The legally separated married couple enjoys all the benefits of being married, while enjoying the benefits of a divorce. How is this so?
Court Orders During a Legal Separation
Since a legal separation is very similar to a divorce action, the family court can make several different court orders, including orders for:
- Alimony or spousal support
- Child custody
- Child support
- Property division
So, why would spouses want to get a legal separation as opposed to a real divorce? The answers are very individual, but usually people file for a legal separation for one of the following reasons: 1) insurance purposes (e.g. a sick or disabled husband or wife needs their spouse's health insurance coverage), 2) they have religious objections to divorcing, 3) they want to stay married for the children's sake, or 4) they want to test being separated to see if they actually want a divorce.
If you are considering a legal separation, first you want to speak with an experienced family law attorney to find out if your state allows legal separations. If spousal support, child custody or child support are issues, you will need an expert's advice. A lawyer will be able to answer your questions so you can make an educated decision about how to proceed.
To find a local family law attorney who can help you, scroll through our directory to find one near you!