When spouses decide to go their separate ways, divorce is the most common solution. But, it isn’t the only option. In some situations, it may be more beneficial for the couple to seek a legal separation rather than a divorce.
The attorneys at Lincoln & Wenk are ready to meet with you, discuss your situation and determine the best path forward for you as you prepare for your next chapter.
What is a Legal Separation?
In Arizona, a legal separation is a process that allows married couples to live separate and apart while remaining legally married. It is similar to a divorce in that it establishes the rights and responsibilities of each spouse during the separation period, including matters such as division of property and debts, child custody, child support and spousal maintenance. Unlike a divorce, a legal separation does not terminate the marriage, but it provides the formal framework for the couple’s separation arrangements.
Legal Separation v. Divorce
The primary difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that, when you are legally separated, you and your spouse are still legally married. Because you are still married, neither you nor your spouse can remarry. In addition, you can still be covered under each other’s health insurance plan(s).
In Arizona, the process for filing for a divorce and legal separation are essentially the same. There are some procedural differences, however. For instance, in a divorce case, at least one spouse must have resided in Arizona for at least 90 days prior to filing. With a legal separation, however, Arizona law requires only that one of the spouses lives in or is stationed in Arizona at the time of filing
In addition, while a legal separation case is pending, if either spouse decides they would prefer to be divorced instead, a request can be made with the Court and the case will be converted to a divorce. Once a legal separation is finalized, the only means to convert it to a divorce is to initiate a divorce case and go through the regular divorce process, however.
If parties that are legally separated are able to reconcile their marriage, the legal separation decree can be terminated by agreement, which effectively restores the marriage without the need for a new marriage license or ceremony. That said, property awarded to each spouse in the legal separation remains their separate property even if the decree is terminated, as well as any property acquired, income earned, or debts incurred during the period of legal separation.
How is Legal Separation Different from a “Trial Separation?”
A “trial separation” has no legal meaning or effect. Spouses who want to voluntarily live separate and apart temporarily are free to do so, but there is no legal process associated with doing so.
That said, if you and your spouse share children and it appears the living situation may become more permanent, you may be able to pursue child support through the court. If you have decided not to live with your spouse for more than a brief period, it is generally a good idea to consult an attorney about the legal ramifications of your situation and learn more about your options.
Is Legal Separation Right for Me?
If you’re unsure whether a legal separation is the right answer for you, the best source of information is an experienced Arizona family law attorney. The attorneys at Lincoln & Wenk understand that separating from your spouse isn’t just a legal and practical step. Taking a significant step towards separating or ending a marriage has emotional and psychological impacts, and our lawyers are here to help find the best solution for you and your children.
Call us today at 623-294-2464 to learn more about your legal rights and options.