What is a Legal Separation?

Though similar to a divorce in many ways, there are several key differences between a divorce and a legal separation. The main difference is that, with a legal separation, the spouses remain married. A legal separation grants the spouses time to consider their differences and decide where to take their lives. They may ultimately decide to reconcile, or the legal separation could be converted into a divorce with relative ease.

Like a divorce, a legal separation will separate your finances (and, depending on your circumstances, also lead to physical separation). The separation of financial responsibilities can be advantageous for spouses when there is a new lack of trust between the two parties and can allow either party to become more self-sufficient.

What is a Trial Separation?

Filing for a divorce can be extraordinarily difficult, but filing for a legal separation isn’t exactly something to be taken lightly, either. For those considering either option but afraid to commit, they may consider a trial separation as an option.

In a trial separation, you and your spouse will live separately. During the trial separation, you’ll be given the time to evaluate your marriage and decide whether you wish to continue with your current marital status without the involvement of the courts. A trial separation can go into effect on little more than a verbal agreement between the two spouses, saving you the need to file paperwork. If you do not have the individual finances to live separately at this time, you may opt to live in the same house but in different rooms. At the end of the trial separation, you can decide whether you wish to return to your marriage or explore other options, such as a legal separation or a divorce.

What is a Separation Agreement?

Unless you file for a legal separation, the same marriage rules apply when you decide to separate. This means that the ownership of property, assets, and debts will remain unchanged. If you are looking to reevaluate your marriage during a separation, it may be worth spelling out some ground rules that may come up in the meantime. You can accomplish this by writing an informal separation agreement.

The informal agreement can address matters such as whether you should continue to use a joint bank account or credit card, who lives where, how expenses and budgeting are handled, and where any children will reside.

Is Child Custody Handled Different in a Legal Separation as Compared to a Divorce?

In all child custody negotiations (now called legal decision-making and parenting time in Arizona), the judge will always attempt to think in terms of what is in the child’s best interests. This remains the same whether you are filing for a divorce or a legal separation.

In situations where the two spouses cannot come to an agreement on child custody and parenting time, the court will attempt to decide for them. It is important to have an experienced divorce lawyer in your corner during these discussions so that your interests are better represented.

What Are Some of the Benefits of Choosing to Separate Instead of Filing for Divorce?

When deciding between divorce and legal separation, you should weigh the pros and cons of either option. Neither option is universally better than the other and the decision must be yours, based on your particular circumstances.

Benefits of legal separation over divorce may include:

  • Divorce can be costly, time-consuming, and emotionally exhausting. While a legal separation is by no means a walk in the park, it can be relatively easier to accomplish and endure as compared to a divorce.
  • Finances are separated as well. You won’t need to worry about accruing any of your spouse’s debts after the separation is granted. This is useful when you worry about your spouse’s spending habits.
  • Some religions forbid divorce. A legal separation allows you to remain married but legally separated.
  • There is always the potential for reconciliation. After you file for divorce, you’re probably never coming back from that. But legal separation affords you time to work through your issues before taking that final step.
  • While separated, you cannot get remarried. If you or your spouse has fallen in love with someone new, on of you will have to seek a full divorce before you can get married again.
  • You get to keep many of the benefits afforded to you via marriage if you file for a legal separation. While separated, you could continue to enjoy your health insurance benefits and possibly tax benefits reserved for married couples.

All of that being said, there are some downsides to legal separations, too. Most notably, you cannot remarry another person while you are legally separated. If you want to move on from your marriage for a fresh start, divorce may be the necessary route to take.

Contact Our Law Firm to Schedule Your Initial Consultation

Whether you’re exploring your options or ready to file for a legal separation or divorce, we recommend getting in touch with Arizona Family Law Attorneys. Our law firm has extensive experience representing clients from all walks of life in the practice area of family law. Divorce and legal separation are not concepts to be taken lightly. If you’re contemplating divorce or legal separation – or you’re considering more informal trial separation – please contact our Phoenix-based law offices for legal advice.

Arizona Family Law Attorneys strives to provide the highest degree of compassionate, empathetic legal representation. If you have any questions or concerns about our legal services, please contact our law office today to schedule a case evaluation. You may reach our Phoenix law offices at (480) 448-0608.