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What is a Legal Separation?

Marriage is not always easy, and unfortunately, many unions end in divorce. When the relationship continues to have problems, you might consider divorcing. You and your spouse may decide to live apart for a period of time while you decide what to do next. This period is called a trial separation and is a time when you and your spouse are living physically apart. A physical separation is not automatically a legal separation. So, what is a legal separation and do we need to take that step before we seek a divorce?

Legal Separation vs. Physical Separation

When you and your spouse are considering divorce, one of the steps you may take is to live apart. Living apart, also called physical separation, is not the same as legal separation. Living in different physical locations is often a good idea for couples, but it does not provide you with the same protections as a legal separation. A legal separation allows you and your spouse the ability to make critical decisions about the distribution of assets, child custody and support issues, and more. A legal separation requires you to file a legal request with the court.

Benefits of Legal Separation

Although many couples do not file for legal separation, there are some potential benefits. With a legal separation, you and your spouse will need to decide how to split your assets and must make decisions such as which spouse will keep the house. In addition, you will come to an agreement about co-parenting, visitation, and alimony, among others. This will make the divorce process easier and faster because you have already divided up your marital property.

Another benefit of a legal separation is that you are no longer tied to your spouse financially. Therefore, you or your spouse can make purchases, apply for loans, and make important financial decisions that are yours alone. Additionally, you will be able to address your medical insurance coverage to ensure that you and your family members all maintain adequate coverage.

How to File for Legal Separation

Not all states have a process in place for legal separation. In Wisconsin, you may file for a legal separation as long as you meet the criteria. You must have lived in the state for at least the past 30 days, and you must file in the county where you reside. You must provide grounds for your separation. Although Wisconsin offers no-fault divorces, a separation allows for the possibility of reconciliation.

There is a 120-day waiting period after the judge reviews your case before the legal separation order is final. Couples can utilize this time period to negotiate the settlement terms of the agreement. The judge will listen to testimony from both parties in cases where one spouse wants a divorce and one requests a legal separation. The judge will allow you 60 days to decide how to move forward.

The decision to end your marriage is never easy, and some couples may prefer to seek a legal separation, especially if they want to make sure they are making the right choice. To learn more about legal separation and divorce contact Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. for an initial consultation or call us at (608) 784-8310.

Published January 8, 2021
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