What Is a Legal Separation?

What Is a Legal Separation?

September 23, 2021

If you’re thinking about ending your marriage, you might wonder whether you should file for a legal separation first. The bad news is that Texas doesn’t recognize legal separation. The good news is that there are several other legal options that can protect your interests until you end your marriage or reconcile. Working with your family lawyer is the best way to figure out which options are right for you.

Legal separation defined

Legal separation is similar to a divorce. If a state recognizes legal separation, the court will determine issues of asset division, custody, spousal support and child support. While the parties remain legally married, they live separately and accrue wealth separately.

Eventually, if one of the parties decides they want to marry someone else, they’ll need to ask the court to formally divorce. Otherwise, they’re free to stay legally separated until one or both spouses die. If the parties decide they’d like to reconcile, they can petition to end the legal separation.

Spouses might choose legal separation when the marriage isn’t working, but they’d still like to benefit from employer-sponsored health coverage or Social Security benefits, or if they have a religious opposition to divorce.

Texas alternatives to legal separation

Since Texas doesn’t recognize legal separation, you’ll need to either divorce or choose from one of these options:

  • Temporary orders: Temporary orders can establish who pays which bills, has possession of the children and takes possession of which assets while a divorce is still ongoing. A temporary order can be different from the final court orders for asset division, custody and support. They’re usually negotiated in the beginning of the divorce process, to officially establish protocol until the divorce is finalized. Since Texas divorces require a minimum of 60 days before completion, it’s wise to establish “ground rules” when the situation is particularly contentious.
  • Protective orders: If you’re a victim of domestic violence, a protective order can establish similar rules. These orders can dictate where the children live and whether a parent has access to them. They can also establish child and spousal support and who can stay in the house. They typically expire after two years.
  • Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship: SAPCR lawsuits are not part of a divorce case, but they can establish possession, access or conservatorship of any minor children you two share. They can also be filed by parents who were never married.
  • Separation agreement: Separation agreements are contracts between spouses who no longer live together, but aren’t officially divorced. As long as both parties agree, you can negotiate support, custody and visitation and asset division. You can also determine who is responsible for which bills and other obligations. Keep in mind that if you’re still married, you’re still financially tied to the other party—so if they’re irresponsible with money, you may want to finish the divorce sooner rather than later.

If you’d like to explore your legal separation and divorce options, contact the Law Office of Rob Biggers today to arrange a consultation with a family lawyer. We’re happy to offer you a consultation.

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