Marriage Separation Procedures

Jodee Redmond
Couple facing away from each other

Marriage separation procedures vary, depending on the state where the couple resides. Before taking this step, a person should consider his or her options carefully.

Definition of Marriage Separation

In some jurisdictions, a couple must physically separate and live in two different homes to be considered separated. This can be a good step for people who may be unsure that their marriage is truly over and want to get some perspective on the situation and some much-needed breathing room.

During this time apart, the couple could decide to seek counseling, either individually or together, to deal with the difficulties in the marriage. They may also decide to spend some time together to work out their differences without the added stress of sharing the same living space.

In other parts of the United States, marriage separation starts the day the couple decides they are going to separate. Since the marriage effectively ends at that point, this date becomes very important. Property accumulated during the marriage (which is from the day of the wedding to the date of separation), is divided between the spouses under the rules set out in that state's divorce legislation. When there is a dispute about the effective date of separation, the value of the couple's assets may be affected.

Marriage Separation Procedures to Follow

Ending a marriage is a very stressful life event, and not everyone who goes through it has a clear plan in place. In cases where abuse is an issue, getting to a safe place and looking after the physical safety of oneself and any minor children must take precedence. In cases where the parties have time to make a plan for ending the marriage, the following steps can be taken:

Consult an Attorney

When a marriage is ending, there are many factors to consider, and a lay person simply doesn't have all the answers. Many people think about getting legal advice after separating from their spouse, but it can make good sense to consult an attorney before moving out of the matrimonial home, too.

A consultation with a lawyer can provide the person who is thinking about separation with much-needed information about his or her rights and responsibilities. For example, leaving the matrimonial home may affect matters like child custody at a later time if the person moving out doesn't take the children as well.

Make a Plan

Once expert legal advice has been obtained, the next step in marriage separation procedures is to make a plan that includes decisions about who is going to move out and where their new home will be. The couple will need to discuss issues about child custody and visitation. At this point, the custodial parent may want to consider applying to the court for temporary child support. He or she may also need to ask for spousal support at this time.

Consider a Legal Separation

Not all jurisdictions recognize a formal legal separation, and it's a good idea to consult an attorney to find out what the applicable law is. If legal separation is recognized, it's a way for a couple to deal with issues involving division of marital property, child custody and visitation. Any debts the couple incurred during the marriage are also dealt with during this process.

If the couple can agree on these issues, the information may be formalized in a separation agreement. It's a good idea to seek legal advice before signing, since in many cases if the couple decides to formalize the separation with a divorce, the court will use the same terms in the divorce judgment. The separation agreement should be viewed as a (possible) final document and not something that can be improved on if the parties ultimately decide to divorce.

File for Divorce

The final step in marriage separation procedures is to officially file for divorce. If the couple is unable to agree on the issues between them, a hearing will be scheduled so that a judge can decide how they should be settled.

Marriage Separation Procedures