A legal separation is a proceeding that is very similar to a dissolution of marriage. Similar pleadings to those that are filed in a dissolution of marriage action are filed in a legal separation action. The purpose of a legal separation is to get a Decree of Legal Separation entered which permanently divides the parties’ property and debts, awards spousal maintenance, if applicable, and provides for legal decision-making, parenting time and child support for their children.
The primary difference between a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (a divorce) and a Decree of Legal Separation is that parties to a Decree of Legal Separation cannot remarry because they remain legally married to their spouse.
Legal separations are used most frequently in cases where religious beliefs prohibit one or both parties from obtaining a divorce or where one party has a pre-existing medical condition, is insured by his or her spouse’s medical insurance and cannot obtain alternative medical insurance due to the pre-existing condition. Although pre-existing conditions used to be one of the primary reasons to obtain a legal separation instead of a divorce, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“Obama Care”) has largely eliminated the need for a legal separation based on an inability to obtain health insurance.
A Legal Separation may be converted to a Dissolution of Marriage, but all of the pleadings have to be amended and re-filed, which is time consuming and expensive. A court may revisit spousal maintenance and child support awards when converting a Legal Separation to a Dissolution, but a court is not permitted to modify any division of property or debt.
* The information contained in this message is general and should not substitute for the advice and counsel of a licensed attorney.