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What if my state doesn’t allow a legal separation?

Even though people who marry each other expect to spend the rest of their lives together, sometimes unforeseen circumstances occur. Relationships break down, and people grow apart. When a marriage falls to pieces, many people’s first course of action is divorce. But divorce isn’t always an option for everybody. In certain circumstances, an abrupt end to the marriage isn’t feasible. For some couples, ending the marriage at all won’t work.

There are a number of different reasons that a couple may not immediately file for a divorce after breaking up.

One of the reasons has to do with state laws. Divorce and separation laws differ from state to state. There are many states that require that couples have spent some time living separately before they’re permitted to file a “no fault” divorce claim.

Other couples may be weathering some of the most difficult times of their lives. One or both spouses may be struggling with severe mental illness or a substance abuse disorder. Living together may be unhealthy and impossible. In these cases, the healthiest option is for the couple to separate. However, the spouses don’t always want to break up. Sometimes they wish to live separately while continuing to work on the issues in their marriage. The hope is that with enough time and work, they can rekindle their marriage.

There have been many cases in which religious beliefs prevent a couple from divorcing, even if the spouses find living together impossible. When this is the case, separating without divorcing is often the only option.

No matter the circumstances, a couple who needs to separate without divorcing can ask the court to grant them a legal separation. A legal separation is a legally binding arrangement in which couples agree upon their responsibilities while they live apart. Separation agreements deal with detailed issues like the division of assets, allocation of debts, financial support systems, and child custody arrangements.

Legal separation is a process very similar to divorce proceedings. In fact, if couples do choose to divorce later, many will use their legal separation terms as the groundwork for their divorce agreement. The difference between legal separation and divorce is that in a legal separation, the spouses are still married. They cannot marry another person.

Options if Your State Doesn’t Offer Legal Separation

The majority of states in the US allow couples to legally separate. However, not every one of them does. If you’re living in an area that doesn’t allow legal separation, you may be wondering how to codify your spousal agreement. Arrangements about child custody and finances must be made using other processes you’ll find within your jurisdiction.

Temporary Orders

You can ask the court in your jurisdiction to issue a temporary order about your child custody and financial issues. Such an order would be created on a temporary basis while you and your spouse live apart. Other couples who live apart may use the same legal process regardless of the strength of their marriage.

When you use this process, it’s important to get in contact with a family law attorney. These attorneys are experienced with navigating family court. They understand how to negotiate agreements that work best for every family member.

Attempt to Reconcile

If you don’t want to divorce your spouse, consider trying to reconcile your differences. Temporary court orders can be used to put some space between you. You can work out your differences in a constructive way. Family counseling is often a good option for couples with a marriage on the rocks.

Think About Divorce

If you absolutely cannot reconcile your marriage, divorce may be the healthiest option available. It’s an unpleasant alternative, but it’s a way of taking care of yourself. Sometimes speaking to a counselor or clergy member can help you come to terms with the choice. If you’re still hoping to reconcile, remember that you can remarry your spouse after a divorce.

Move to a New State

There are simply some circumstances in which both reconciliation and divorce are absolutely impossible. When this is the case, think about moving to a state where legal separation is possible. This decision is major and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. It might also be difficult depending on custody arrangements with your children.

Find Legally Binding Language

You need to find some way to have the court recognize your separation and lay out legal terms. Failing to do so means neither spouse is held accountable to agreements they make.

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