What are Legal Separation Laws?

Misty Amber Brighton

A legal separation is a formal written agreement between two married people when they have decided to live separately rather than get a divorce. Legal separation laws are statutes concerning these agreements. They normally cover topics such as child custody, alimony, child support, visitation, and division of property.

Legal separation laws can provide guidelines for the payment of child support.
Legal separation laws can provide guidelines for the payment of child support.

A marital separation can sometimes be an alternative to a divorce. This often occurs when the parties may ultimately wish to reconcile, but have difficulty living together in the meantime. In these instances, legal separation laws can guide couples as to the steps they need to take in order to make this arrangement beneficial to both parties, as well as to their children.

For some couples, a marital separation is an alternative to divorce.
For some couples, a marital separation is an alternative to divorce.

Even though they are not divorced, married couples who formally separate may nonetheless have issues concerning child custody and visitation. These matters must be addressed by legal separation lawyers in the formal agreement process. Legal separation laws can guide spouses and their attorneys in the way they handle these delicate issues.

Legal separation laws can also provide guidelines for the payment of child support and alimony. This is usually done by comparing the husband's wages with those of his wife. The number of children involved, as well as any special medical needs, are also considered when calculating payment amounts.

Custody and visitation issues are other topics covered by many legal separation laws. Typically, primary custody is given to one parent with the other being allotted time known as visitation. This can resolve discrepancies as to where the children live or attend school, in many cases.

Couples may need to decide who gets control of various assets. This can include the marital home, furniture, and cars. Legal separation laws may give guidelines to attorneys and judges as to how to handle the division of property, as well as how debts are paid.

In many areas, legal separation laws also address issues such as adultery. This is because many jurisdictions still consider it a crime to have sex outside of a marital relationship. This could mean that a formal agreement could include clauses that prohibit partners from cohabiting with others unless a divorce is officially granted by a judge.

When a married couple decides to formally separate, it can be disheartening for them as well as for their children. Legal separation laws serve to resolve disputes as justly and civilly as possible. This can leave husbands and wives better situated to help themselves, as well as their family members, adjust to this life-altering event as easily and with as little stress as possible.

A divorce is officially granted by a judge.
A divorce is officially granted by a judge.

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Discussion Comments


When the custodial parent decides to change the visitation laid out by the court, or the children don't want to adhere to the strict letter of the visitation, what is the other parent supposed to do?

I have three kids, ages 7, 4 and 1. I only have them one night for sleepover, and two other nights for three hours. When one of them is sick, say with a cold, then the mother wants to keep them all home.

The three-hour time was requested and set by the mother at the temp order hearing, but she wants to change the time from 3:45 - 7 p.m. to 4:00 to 6:30 p.m., without petitioning the court.

She is not helping to convince the kids that they should be with me for the Friday/all day Saturday timeframe. In fact, I suspect she encourages them to stay home with her.

I know I can take my order to the police and have them with me when I want to take the kids, but that is too traumatic and over the top.

Usually, she makes these decisions late in the day and informs me when I'm on my way to meet the kids. She won't even let me pick the kids up at the house. I have to meet her somewhere. We have not had any incidents that would give cause for this. She is just telling me to meet her somewhere else to take or drop off the kids.

What am I to do?

I am in Washington state, and am paying child support and maintenance (alimony).

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