Legal separation, a process governed by RCW § 26.09, is an available alternative to a divorce (dissolution) action. This may be a beneficial option for some clients, depending on their circumstances. A legal separation deals with the same issues as a dissolution action in that the court still enters orders affecting parenting, child support, and property and liability division. The primary difference is that at the end of the proceedings, the couple remains legally married.
Deciding which legal process suits you and your spouse best takes careful consideration. To learn more about legal separation and for help navigating the process, call David J. Crouse & Associates and schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Spokane: 509-624-1380.
How does a legal separation work?
The legal separation process is much like that for dissolution. It begins with one spouse (the petitioner) filing a petition with the Superior Court that requests the court grant the couple a legal separation. Once the court has filed the initial pleadings, the couple can enter into temporary orders that dictate how they will handle certain matters during the interim, such as support, child custody, and paying bills.
Similar to a divorce, there will also be a discovery phase, a time period in which the parties gather and share documents and financial records. If the couple agrees on terms, they can amicably enter into a legal separation agreement that settles all the matters of separation, including how they will handle child custody, insurance, debts and assets, child support and spousal maintenance, among other things.
If the parties have difficulty reaching terms, they may opt for mediation. During mediation meetings, a neutral, third party professional mediator facilitates discussion between each party and their attorneys. The mediator suggests ways to compromise and reach a mutual agreement. If the parties still cannot agree, a trial may be necessary, although most couples wind up settling before trial ensues.
Like a divorce, the separation process culminates with a Decree of Legal Separation (called Decree of Dissolution in a divorce) and associated orders.
What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?
The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that with the former, the parties remain legally married. Couples who enter into legal separation agreements can remain separate indefinitely, or they can choose to convert the legal separation decree into a divorce decree. Washington requires that the parties wait six months from the entry of the separation decree to ask the courts to convert the status of their marriage into a divorce.
A Decree of Legal Separation is very similar to a Decree of Dissolution; the primary distinction is that the separation does not state that the couples are divorced.
If you are not sure which process offers the most benefit for you or if you think there may be a possibility of reconciliation in the future, talk to a lawyer before taking any legal action. A lawyer will confirm whether a legal separation will actually protect the rights or benefits you are trying to preserve.
Also, there is a grey area for couples who obtain a legal separation and then reconcile. Their status becomes murky because they are married and living together, yet they are not a legal couple. They may need to file a Motion to Dismiss Decree of Legal Separation in order to reinstate their status.
Because of these complex distinctions and processes, you would be should discuss your options with an attorney.
Why would a couple choose separation over divorce?
The reasons for choosing legal separation over a divorce vary:
- One spouse does not want to get divorced.
- The couple thinks that reconciliation in the future may be an option.
- A couple may desire to no longer live as spouses, but still wish to remain eligible for benefits (e.g., healthcare, retirement, or taxes).
- The couples may have strong religious convictions that do not allow for divorce, yet they wish to live apart and be financially independent.
In cases such as these, a legal separation may be a suitable option.
What are the legal requirements to get a legal separation in Spokane?
Unlike other states with a lot of red tape, Washington’s legal separation process is rather streamlined. Here, there is no long-term residency requirement to file for legal separation. The petitioner only needs to live in Washington on the day of filing.
Also, because Washington is a no-fault state, neither spouse needs to prove fault or give any specific reason for seeking a separation. And if the parties agree on the terms, they do not need even to appear in court before a judge.
David J. Crouse & Associates can answer any questions you may have about legal separation, help you with required documents and forms, and ensure we protect your rights during the process.
Speak with a Family Law Attorney in Spokane
For over 20 years, David J. Crouse & Associates has been helping people in Spokane County and neighboring counties resolve their tough family law issues. Whether it is a separation, divorce, child custody, or support issue, our team has the resources, knowledge, and skills to help.
To protect your rights, it is important to have an attorney draft or review your separation agreement and accompanying documents. Petitions, responses, financial affidavits, and other required documents often contain confusing legal terminology. You must make sure you understand what you are agreeing to because once a judge approves and signs it, a separation is a legally binding document that you must abide by.
If you fill out forms on your own or sign forms without having a lawyer look over them, you might make costly mistakes or inadvertently agree to something that is not in your best interest.
We have years of experience assisting with legal separations and can help you formulate and execute the best course of action in these circumstances. We invite you to contact our firm to schedule a consultation to discuss your rights and responsibilities in a legal separation: 509-624-1380.