Ending a marriage is a major decision. Anyone considering divorce in the Midwest must weigh their options carefully. Of course, some marriages result in divorce after years of tension and conflict. In other cases, spouses rush to divorce instead of working through issues they could potentially resolve. Divorce is a complex and often expensive process, and you and your spouse must be certain of your decision if either of you intend to file a divorce petition. Fortunately, there is an alternative that could provide both of you with time and space as you either resolve your differences and reconcile or work toward a finalized divorce.
Legal separation is quite common throughout the Midwest. This process entails many of the same proceedings as divorce, but the couple remains legally married. Some divorcing couples use legal separation to pace their divorce proceedings while others may use legal separation as a “cooling off” period before eventually reconciling their differences. Whatever your unique situation entails, it may be worth waiting to file for divorce and instead exploring the potential benefits of legal separation.
How Does Legal Separation Work?
Legal separation requires the couple to complete many of the same steps they would need to fulfill for a divorce:
- The separating couple must settle property division according to state law. This means providing financial disclosure documentation, establishing separate property ownership rights, and dividing all marital property. Most states in the Midwest follow equitable distribution laws, meaning the court seeks the fairest—but not necessarily equal—division of marital property.
- The couple must settle outstanding shared debts. This may include paying off certain debts using shared assets or dividing responsibility for outstanding debts. It’s possible that a couple may liquidate some shared assets to pay off shared debts.
- If the couple has children, they must complete a custody resolution. The court will carefully evaluate the situation and decide custody based on the needs and best interests of their children.
- If one spouse earns significantly more income than the other, or if one spouse is financially dependent on their spouse’s income, alimony or spousal support may be necessary. These regular monthly payments are intended to ensure the supported spouse can maintain an acceptable standard of living.
Ultimately, the legal separation process is extensive and requires covering most of the same issues the couple would need to resolve if they divorced. However, the couple will remain legally married. If they decide to divorce in the future, they will need to review their legal separation order to decide whether the same terms should apply for divorce. Most couples that use legal separation as a springboard for a future divorce will only need to cover a few outstanding issues to complete the divorce process.
Benefits of Legal Separation
Legal separation can appeal to couples for many different reasons. A couple that has been struggling with marital problems for years may decide to use legal separation as a trial run for divorce. If they aren’t convinced that divorce is the right decision, separation provides them time to experience living independently from one another. In other cases, legal separation serves as a springboard to a future divorce when a couple cannot complete a divorce immediately due to financial constraints, family issues, or other reasons.
Legal separation may also be preferable to divorce for older couples who no longer wish to live together but want to remain legally married for practical reasons. For example, if neither of them intends to remarry but both want to continue sharing health insurance and taking advantage of tax benefits for marriage, legal separation is likely the best available option. Some couples will use legal separation to take advantage of the financial benefits of remaining legally married while giving one another space and time to reevaluate priorities. Many couples will try marriage counseling during legal separation if they want to work toward reconciliation.
Ultimately, the most significant benefit to legal separation is that it allows a couple to complete some of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process ahead of an actual divorce. This means they have time to either repair their marriage and reconcile or decide that ending their marriage is best for both parties.
How Can Separation Help Begin the Divorce Process?
A legal separation order is more flexible than a divorce order. If the couple completes legal separation and later realizes a need to change some aspect of their separation, it’s typically easy to accomplish this with the consent of both spouses. A legal separation order will likely contain child custody determination, property division terms, and some agreement pertaining to alimony or spousal support. These terms are legally enforceable, but both spouses have the right to request reasonable changes.
At some point in a legal separation, the couple may decide to use their separation order as the basis for a divorce. In this situation, the legal separation serves to streamline the divorce process significantly. If you have already separated from your spouse and the two of you decide to take your separation further and divorce, the process may only take a few weeks to complete, and you will have already resolved the most important issues your divorce entails.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Legal Separation in the Midwest?
Legal separation entails most of the same proceedings as divorce, so it’s best to have legal counsel you can trust throughout this process. Separation can still take quite a long time to complete, but there are tangible benefits to selecting legal separation in lieu of divorce. An experienced Midwest divorce attorney can not only provide valuable guidance as you weigh the potential benefits of separation vs divorce, but also offer legal counsel and ongoing support as you work through the separation process.
Legal separation statutes vary from state to state, and all Midwestern states have unique laws you must refer to if you intend to file for legal separation. An experienced Midwest family law attorney is the best resource to have in this situation. Contact a reliable family law attorney to learn more about the potential benefits of legal separation, and what you can expect in your proceedings.