A legal separation and a divorce are very different. When a divorce is finalized, a couple is no longer married. During a legal separation, a couple is still married, but a legal separation agreement outlines the rights and duties of each spouse while living apart. If you and your spouse have deciding that legally separating is the right decision for your situation, take the following steps:
Petition the Court
As long as you and your spouse meet the residency requirements for your state, you will be able to petition the court for a legal separation. In many cases, a legal separation can be just as complicated as a divorce, so it is in your best interest to hire and attorney to assist you with the entire process. Having a lawyer will ensure that all of the paperwork is done correctly and filed in the court system.
Create a Legal Separation Agreement
Since you and your spouse will be living apart and legally living separate lives, a comprehensive legal separation agreement is essential, especially if the two of you share children. A legal separation agreement needs to cover a number of topics, such as spousal support, child custody, child support, visitation, where each person will live, and how joint assets and debts will be handled. In order to protect yourself, you should always have a lawyer draw up a legal separation agreement. Ideally, both you and your spouse should each have a lawyer to ensure that the legal separation agreement is fair.
Have Your Spouse Served, If Needed
If you and your spouse do not file for a legal separation jointly, you have the right to file on your own. But when you file on your own, you will need to make arrangements to have your spouse served with the legal separation papers. Much like a divorce, your spouse will be given a set amount of time to respond to your legal separation petition.
In the event that your spouse does not agree to a legal separation, he or she may file a counter petition. Mediation is often recommended for spouses who can't come to agreement about a legal separation. If mediation does not work, you will need to go before a judge.
A judge will review your legal separation paperwork, and if everything is done properly, the judge will sign off. The documents will then be filed and recorded. After a legal separation is approved and finalized, you will need to make sure to follow everything laid out in your legal separation agreement.