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What is legal separation and why would I want one?

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2022 | Family Law

You and your spouse are on the outs, but you are not sure if you are ready to divorce. Getting divorced is a life-changing decision and while you no longer want to live with your spouse, you are not sure if you are ready to end your marriage yet.

A legal separation is an option that lets couples live apart in a way that protects their rights to children, property and finances without necessarily divorcing.

What is legal separation?

Legal separation allows you to live apart from your spouse, but it is not the same as divorce under Washington law. For example, if you are legally separated you are not free to remarry because in the eyes of the government you have not dissolved your marriage.

Couples seeking a legal separation will execute a binding agreement including details regarding child custody, property division and alimony. This is similar to a divorce decree.

A separation agreement is essential, because simply living in different homes is not enough to constitute a legal separation.

Legal separation grounds

Like divorce, a legal separation must be based on certain statutory grounds. You can pursue a legal separation if:

  • You and your spouse mutually agree that your marriage cannot be saved (no-fault)
  • You have not lived with your spouse for 18 months in a row because you are simply incompatible and there is no reasonable chance that you will reconcile with your spouse
  • One of you were unfaithful in your marriage
  • Your spouse willfully deserted you for at least one year
  • Your spouse has been gone for seven years and has not been heard from during that time
  • Your spouse was intolerably cruel
  • Your spouse is serving a life sentence in prison

These are only some grounds upon which you can pursue a legal separation; there are others.

Why pursue legal separation?

A legal separation does not dissolve your marriage, so why would you want to seek one?

Well, you may want to take some time apart in a legally protected way. Perhaps you will eventually divorce but until then you want to make sure your rights are upheld until then. And, it leaves the door open to reconciliation.

If your marriage is struggling you may find a legal separation to be helpful, whether or not it leads to divorce . Sometimes taking your time to process your feelings and your marital situation is necessary before making the major decision to end your marriage.