If you and your spouse are thinking about legal separation, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into before you commit. Not only is the decision to separate serious, it can also be costly. The last thing you want to do is pay your respective attorneys and then blow it because you didn’t know what you should and should not do.
Legal separation is often an unclear legal concept with varying conditions based on your state’s laws and your family’s structure. However, a consistent truth in any case is that a successful period of legal separation is a requirement before a divorce can be finalized.
Though divorce can be difficult in any situation, understanding the requirements of legal separation doesn’t have to be. The first thing you should know is what is required to separate according to the law. In order for a couple to be considered legally separated they must:
- Live separately
- Come to an agreement on shared financial and custodial matters
- Have filed the required documents in the correct court to establish legal separation
Now that you know what you need to do to be legally separated, let’s go over what you should not do during your separation.
5 Things You Should Not Do During Legal Separation
Avoiding these five actions can protect you in the event that your separation leads to divorce proceedings.
A legal separation begins when a married couple ends cohabitation with the intent to divorce. The length of separation varies by case type and family structure. For example, a couple without shared dependents will typically be separated for a shorter period and divorce sooner.
In an uncontested divorce without dependents, assuming all other legal matters have been agreed upon, the marriage could be dissolved in about a year.
Never Assume That Verbal Agreements Made Outside of Court Are Legally Binding
One of the most challenging aspects of legal separation is determining each party’s financial responsibility, especially in cases where one party is seeking financial support. Conflict and unwillingness to compromise may stall divorce proceedings. Securing legal counsel or mediation may help both parties reach an equitable agreement.
When dependents are involved, there are additional matters to settle before a divorce is granted. A custody and child support agreement should be reached in family court with the help of a mediator if both responsible parties can’t come to terms. Once an agreement is reached in court, there are legal actions that can be taken if either party does not adhere to the agreement.
Avoid Indecisive Behaviors
Be explicit in negotiations with your spouse and their legal counsel, and be clear and fair with your terms. If you are having trouble determining what’s fair, consultation with a divorce attorney should be considered. Negotiations can be stressful, emotionally taxing, expensive, and time-consuming. Avoid making rash decisions by giving yourself time to thoroughly evaluate your terms.
Discontinue Marital Relations
Though marital relations between separated spouses do not nullify a legal separation, it may make the process more complicated for one or both parties. The matter of reconciliation may be raised in court, and these actions may impact the judge’s overall decision to grant or deny your divorce.
Don’t Violate the Terms of Your Agreement
Agreements are made with the assumption that both parties will adhere to the terms that were set, so it’s important to honor your commitment. If one or both parties decides that they are no longer happy with these terms, it should be handled by further negotiation, not blatant disregard of the current terms.
A legal separation agreement isn’t necessarily enforceable if it’s set forth without an official judgement, but both parties are expected to comply by contractual obligation.
Avoid Intimidation Tactics
Even before a divorce is granted, property division and financial support orders can be negotiated. At times one party may attempt to intimidate the other with unfair or excessive demands. This only heightens tensions and further stalls the divorce process. Mediation may help both parties negotiate fairly and rationally.
Legal separation can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially in complex cases where couples run into difficulty coming to fair terms and negotiating without negative emotions. Understanding what you should avoid in this situation is just as important as determining what steps are legally necessary. When in doubt, legal consultation should be sought out, and in more complex cases, a divorce attorney should be secured.