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Legal separation allows you and your spouse to go your separate ways by filing a few legal documents with the court and writing up a separation agreement. While there are some advantages to a legal separation over a divorce, the process is by no means cheaper or faster. And you can’t remarry down the road without eventually getting divorced.
A legal separation is a court order that lays out each spouse’s rights and responsibilities while you’re still legally married, but living apart. It’s an alternative to divorce, and a mandatory requirement in some states before a court will even grant you a divorce.
With a legal separation, you’re not free to remarry, but you can move forward as a single person. You’ll separate your finances and property, and work out child custody and a visitation schedule if you have minor children. The court order may also decide separation maintenance — where one spouse continues to support the other financially, similar to alimony and child support.
Legal separation can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000. Your total cost largely depends on whether you and your spouse can agree to the terms of separation and if you decide to lawyer up.
Attorney fees average $270 an hour, according to a 2019 Martindale-Nolo Research survey. Some couples choose to skip the lawyers and use a do-it-yourself online service instead.
Where you live can also greatly affect legal separation expenses. For example, court fees vary by state. And third-party professional services, such as accountants and real estate appraisers, can also run up the cost.
A legal separation takes eight to 10 months, on average. State law can significantly speed up or slow down the process. For example, some states have a mandatory waiting period before a court will finalize your legal separation.
If your case requires litigation — where a judge resolves issues in your separation agreement, it’ll likely take at least one year to get a legal separation. You’ll be at the mercy of the court’s schedule, and a court hearing may also involve time-consuming steps, such as temporary orders or discovery.
Aside from legal separation, there are two other types of separation: trial and permanent. A trial separation is an agreement between you and your spouse to take a break from the marriage, with the possibility of reconciliation. Although you may choose to live apart, all the same legal rules apply as if you were married and living together.
A permanent separation is when there is no saving the marriage, but you aren’t yet divorced. In some states, a permanent separation could change property rights — for example, assets and debts you acquired during the separation period may only belong to you.
Each state has its own procedures and name for legal separation. Check your state’s laws to find out what requirements you’ll need before you can file for legal separation or its equivalent.
Not every state has a formal process for legal separation. While the following states may have a concept of separation, it’s not a permanent legal status:
A legal separation follows a similar procedure as a divorce. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
If you want to skip the attorney fees, consider an online legal separation service.
While legal separation and divorce allow you and your spouse to live apart, there are fundamental differences between these two legal statuses.
|Estimated cost||Varies greatly depending on if you’re in agreement on terms||Varies greatly depending on if you’re in agreement on terms|
|Length of time||8 to 10 months||12 months|
|Leaves door open for reconciliation||Yes||No|
A legal separation might be a good option if you’re not ready for divorce yet and still have hope to save the marriage. Some couples choose a legal separation to maintain spousal benefits, or until they reach the 10-year benchmark to collect spousal Social Security benefits.
But if you know that divorce is inevitable, you might want to save yourself the extra financial step of legal separation. And an online divorce service can save you pricey attorney fees if your divorce is uncontested.
A legal separation allows you to remain married and maintain a few spousal benefits, such as health insurance and Social Security benefits. It also divvies up your marital finances and property. But it doesn’t end a marriage — meaning you can’t get remarried down the road without eventually getting a divorce.
If you intend to break ties permanently, you might consider a divorce instead.
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