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What if my state doesn’t allow a legal separation?

When a marriage breaks down, many decide that divorce is in their best interest. However, there are some situations in which ending the marriage right away, if at all, is not an option.

* Reasons why a couple may decide to not file for divorce immediately include:

* Many states require couples to live separately and apart before they can file for a “no-fault” divorce.

* Some couples are dealing with serious issues,such as substance abuse or severe mental illness, that make living together impossible. However, they would still like to continue addressing these issues in hopes of reconciliation.

* A couple may find it impossible to live together, but their religious beliefs prohibit or discourage divorce and eventual remarriage.

In such cases, a couple may decide to ask the court for a legal separation. This is an arrangement where the courts prescribe how a couple will manage their responsibilities to each other while living apart. Issues determined in a separation agreement include financial support, division of assets and debts, as well as child custody and visitation. It is similar to a divorce agreement and is legally binding. However, the couple remains married and neither is free to remarry.

Your Options if Legal Separation Isn’t Available

While most states offer couples the option of legal separation, not all do. If you live in a state that does not offer the option of legal separation, you will have to make arrangements regarding finances and child custody using the processes available in your jurisdiction.

Ask for a Temporary Order

One option is to ask the court for a temporary order regarding financial support and child custody issues while you live apart from your spouse. In such cases, it is often wise to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can advise you on how the court system works and in negotiating a temporary arrangement with your spouse.

Attempt Reconciliation

If you are unwilling to divorce, consider attempting reconciliation. You can make use of temporary court orders while you and your spouse attempt to work out your conflicts. An experienced marital counselor may be of assistance during this time.

Reconsider Divorce

If reconciliation is not an option, divorce may be your best, albeit unpleasant, alternative. Talking to a clergy person or counselor may be able to assist you in making this decision. Keep in mind that if you do have hopes for reconciliation, many couples have remarried even after divorce.

Relocate

If divorce is not an option but it is clear that you and your spouse cannot live together, you may want to consider relocating to a state that does offer legal separation as an option. This is, of course, a major decision that can be expensive and difficult. It may also not be possible if you have custody of your children and your spouse gets a court order preventing you from moving them to another state.

A Word of Caution

The possibility of doing nothing, and simply living apart from your spouse with no official agreement between the two of you may seem like the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, this path may create even more problems down the road, such as:

* With no legal agreement regarding finances or child custody, you may find yourself embroiled in an unpleasant dispute several years or even decades from now, particularly if one of you decides to get a divorce and remarry.

* There is the possibility of being held responsible for debts incurred by your spouse.

* If you become incapacitated, a spouse who you have not seen in years may suddenly be called upon to make decisions about your medical care.

Final Word

It’s not easy living in a state that does not give you the options that you want for living apart from your spouse. There may be ways, however, to use the laws that do exist to give you the financial and legal security you need while being separated from your husband or wife. A divorce lawyer can walk you through your options and help you craft the best plan for you and your family.

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