Legal separation can be a reasonable way to give you some space while you’re contemplating divorce, but it’s worthwhile to do it properly to protect yourself and your assets. If you and your spouse are looking at separating, here’s what you should know about filing with the court.
Defining Legal Separation
Legal separation can be a way for couples to go their way while they decide whether to get a divorce. It might also be a wise financial move. Understanding how the two conditions differ can help you understand the filing protocol.
Filing for legal separation and divorce are largely similar. The filing must be done in court, and individuals will live separately with their divided assets and responsibilities once it’s completed.
There are two primary differences. The first is that the individuals remain technically married and not free to wed others until a divorce has been finalized. Legal separation also entails a limited period of time whereas divorce is permanent.
It’s also useful to understand the legal aspect of a court-ordered separation. If a married couple decides to split up and live under separate arrangements for a time, that alone doesn’t make theirs a legal separation.
In fact, there’s nothing legal about that approach; it’s just two people deciding to change their living arrangements. It only becomes a legal separation when an agreement is filed with the court. This agreement legally separates various assets.
There are many reasons to file for legal separation. Often, a legal separation is a precursor to divorce: Couples employ it as a trial period to see if that’s what they really want.
At other times, it delineates a waiting period in case the couple chooses to reconcile. Sometimes, couples will undergo a legal separation because they want to live apart and split their property, assets, and finances fairly, but they might be opposed to divorce for religious reasons.
If at the end of this “trial period” the couple decides on divorce, the individuals must file a separate action through the court.
A Legal Separation Agreement
Filing for legal separation is recommended if you’ll be living apart from your spouse for longer than a few months. A legal separation agreement basically ensures that assets, debts, child support, visitation, alimony, spousal support, and other family matters are legally allocated before you proceed with a divorce.
A legal separation might seem like a hassle, but it will protect you from major risks during the separation. Separating might feel like the best human course of action, but you mustn’t overlook problems that could arise with regard to assets, finances, and debt load.
Separating without protection could mean you’ll remain liable for a spouse’s debt or other legal issues, even though the two of you no longer share an address. Creditors may go after a spouse to cover a debt, despite living arrangements. Such an event would damage your credit.
It’s also worthwhile to be clear about who’s in charge of paying household bills, insurance, maintenance, and other expenses you would otherwise have handled together when you lived under the same roof.
Communication from your spouse may not always be clear or forthcoming during a legal separation, but filing this agreement will protect you from major financial issues down the road.
Steps for Filing Your Legal Separation in Indiana
Although legal separation is not an option in every state, Indiana allows it if you file your separation request in court. Here’s a step-by-step guide to filing.
- Prove Your Residency
The first step is to meet state residency requirements. You must prove that you and your spouse live in Indiana before filing a separation in a state court. Your courthouse might have specific requirements for this step, but usually a contract, mortgage agreement, or certified piece of mail will be sufficient.
- Hire an Attorney
Once residency has been proved, you can begin filing a legal separation petition. You can file this without an attorney, but it’s not recommended. It’s easy to miss details or make mistakes on the agreement that could put you at risk.
If your spouse has a good attorney, that expert could find loopholes in your agreement that leave you unprotected. For top-notch Indiana legal separation services, visit the law offices of Rowdy Williams. We specialize in all facets of family law and can make sure your legal separation occurs smoothly.
- Write Your Legal Separation Agreement
The legal separation agreement will be one of the most difficult tasks of your separation, which is why we recommend a professional. You don’t want to make a mistake that will cost a lot in the end.
We can also help you write your legal separation agreement, which will be filed at the same time as your petition for legal separation. We’ll go over every applicable issue with you, ranging from child custody and child support to marital assets and property division.
We’ll also make sure liability for debts gets assigned to the right people and you won’t be at risk to pay of anything you don’t owe.
- Negotiate and Obtain Spousal Approval
It’s easier if you and your spouse are filing for legal separation jointly, but if you’re not, your spouse must be served so he or she can agree to the legal separation. Your spouse will be given a time frame for a response to the separation and return of the agreement or negotiations.
If your spouse does not agree, you’ll enter negotiations for a separation that you can both agree on. He or she will file a counter-petition, and mediation between the couple, their lawyers, and the judge will commence.
Obviously, this is not always a simple matter. It can drag on for weeks or months until both parties arrive at the best outcome. It can be just as complicated as obtaining a divorce in that respect.
- Notarize and File the Agreement
Once agreements have been made, the spouses will sign and notarize the agreement, and it will be entered into court records for the judge’s approval. Your signatures and filing of the agreement make it legally binding, and it’s not easy — often impossible — to go back on anything you’ve agreed on up to that point. So make certain the agreement is satisfactory before you file it.
Upon court approval, you’ll receive a copy for your records and will be expected to follow the separation agreement to the letter. This document is legally binding, and it’s critical that you stick to its program or face legal sanction.
- Decide to Reconcile or Divorce
In Indiana, a legal separation cannot last longer than a year. At that point, the couple must decide whether they will remain married or file for divorce. You may also file for divorce before the 12-month period is up.
Let the Law Offices of Rowdy Williams File Your Legal Separation
Though the term “separation” might feel lighter than “divorce,” it can still be a complicated and difficult time for you. You need a law office on your side that will advocate for you while minimizing your risk.
The attorneys at Rowdy Williams Law Firm can provide the legal support and expertise you need for a relatively pain-free legal separation. If you decide to go through a divorce at the end of your separation period, we can help you file that as well.
For more information about our family law services and how we can help you, contact us today!