According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate in the United States in 2010 was half that of the marriage rate -- 3.4 divorces per 1,000 population versus 6.8 marriages. While those statistics highlight the frequency with which marriages now end, it is also worth knowing that there are other options open to couples who run into difficulties. The following tips might help you more effectively file for legal marriage separation if this is a possibility that you are considering.
Understand the definition of legal marriage separation
Legal marriage separation occurs when married individuals agree to live separately without legally dissolving the marriage. It is only when the couple legally divorces that dissolution occurs. Legal separation provides an opportunity to reconcile differences and determine whether divorce is necessary. In order to encourage husbands and wives to try to work out their differences, many states requires couples to separate before they can get divorced. Legal separation can offer protective benefits for you if you decide that you cannot live with your spouse any longer.
Get legal advice
Marital law varies from one state to the next, which means that the legal requirements for separation might vary. In some states, for example, the law insists that a couple be legally separated before a divorce is granted. In these cases, the court will insist that the couple file separation papers with the court system. In this case, it is always advisable to get legal advice as early as possible. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the short- and long-term implications of any decisions you need to make. Remember that to file for legal separation, one party is normally required to reside in the county where the papers are filed when the case is started.
Timing is everything
Depending on the laws in your state, the date that your legal separation becomes effective could have a serious impact on subsequent decisions. The separation date might be used, for example, as the date on which assets are valued and divided in an eventual divorce. That could make a significant difference in the outcome, depending upon the nature of your joint income. Social Security Administration rules dictate that you must be married for 10 years to be able to receive benefits based on your spouse's earnings. Separation could be the means for you to reach this period without having to live with your partner.
Be as amicable as possible
The more amicable both parties can be, the lower any legal costs will be due to reduced legal intervention and the more cooperative the court is likely to be if you subsequently intend to file for divorce. Agreeing to the terms of a separation with your partner is crucial prior to taking the next, formal step.
Remember that you might need to compromise. When deciding how assets should be divided, you might need to give up more than you would like if you think that the court will enforce an even harsher distribution. The intent of a legal separation is to give couples time to work through these details, but you will need to establish basics, such as who is going to live where, from the outset.
The court will normally ask for evidence of separation. Any financial joint arrangements with your spouse must be revised. That includes utility bills and leases. Both parties must have a separate address for correspondence. Joint bank and savings accounts must be closed or moved to just one person's name according to the terms of the provider. Make sure that you have copies of any statements and tax records that you might later need. You cannot say at this stage whether your spouse will be cooperative in providing them later if you are asked to produce specific documents.
Legal separation is likely to be just as stressful and taxing as a full divorce, but it offers longer-term benefits in protecting the financial welfare of you and your spouse. Think and plan carefully before taking any action, and make sure that you have legal counsel.