Manage the Dissolution of Your Marriage with a Seattle Legal Separation Attorney

Often clients coming in for their initial consultation with one of our Seattle family lawyers want to know whether they should file for a Legal Separation now, then get divorced later.  When we ask a few questions, we find that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what a Legal Separation is (at least in Washington State). Because the laws are confusing, we encourage you to contact a Seattle legal separation attorney.

What is a Legal Separation?

A Legal Separation is not so much a step towards a divorce as an alternate path. In a Legal Separation, the couple will be as good as divorced for most practical purposes, without actually being divorced. Often this is done so that a spouse can remain on the other person’s health insurance. That is less important than it used to be since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Another reason for some couples is that their religious beliefs forbid them from being divorced, but they also no longer want to live as a couple, so they want to be as close to divorced as they can be.

What is the Difference Between a Divorce and a Legal Separation?

Both a Legal Separation or a Decree of Dissolution ( a divorce) will divide property and debts, provide for a parenting plan for any children of the marriage, set child and spousal support, and enter restraining orders if needed. The main difference is that in the Decree of Legal Separation, the family lawyer will leave out the one line that says “the parties are now divorced”.

While not technically divorcing the couple, what a Legal Separation accomplishes is that it ends the marital community. In other words the couple is no longer a couple under the law. The marital community (a legal entity consisting of two married people) is separated such they they are now two separate people (but not “single” people, i.e. unmarried). Thus property is no longer held as community property. Each has their own income, property, rights and responsibilities independent from the other person. This is a bit confusing, so you should go over what this means for you with your Seattle legal separation attorney when you meet.

What is the Process to Obtain a Legal Separation in Washington?

Just like a divorce, a Legal Separation is started by having your Seattle family lawyer file a petition with the court. It is then up to the parties to try and reach agreement on the terms of the separation, such as the property division, support, and parenting arrangements. If you are not able to reach agreement, then the case will proceed to trial just like in a divorce. Once the parties have reached a settlement agreement, or the trial court has ruled on what the terms should be, the case is finalized by having the court sign a Decree of Legal Separation.

Can I Remarry after a Legal Separation?

In terms of practicality, what this means is that a person who is legally separated cannot remarry without first converting their legal separation into a divorce. At least the process of doing such a conversion is straightforward. While there is a 6 month waiting period after a legal separation before it can be converted, once that period has passed, and since all of the terms have already been settled, it is just a matter of asking your Seattle family lawyer to file a short motion with the court requesting the legal separation be converted to a divorce. Then the court signs a very short order saying the parties are now divorced.

Waiting Period Differences

Another difference is that Washington law requires a 90 day waiting period after filing the petition for divorce before agreed final divorce orders can be entered. On the other hand, many counties in Washington interpret the rule to NOT require the waiting period for Legal Separations. Thus in many cases a Legal Separation can be finalized as soon as a settlement agreement is reached. That can even be right away if agreement was reached prior to filing the petition for Legal Separation. Be sure to ask your family lawyer whether your county is currently requiring the waiting period for Legal Separations.

Potential Complications if a Legally Separated Couple Reconciles

Some couples want to do a Legal Separation rather than a divorce because they think they may still reconcile and get back together. I try and discourage that. If a couple gets Legally Separated and then reconciles and moves back in together, they have a very murky legal status. They are married and living together, yet they are not a community, not a legal couple.

The only way I know of for them to get back to a clear legal status as a traditional married couple is to go ahead and complete the divorce and then remarry. Therefore if a client thinks they may reconcile, I advise them to file for divorce rather than Legal Separation, and then if they do reconcile they can make a conscious decision whether to remarry again or to live together as two single people. If you think you might reconcile down the road, you should also ask your Seattle family lawyer for their opinion on what that could mean in the context of a Legal Separation.

The other option is to hold off on filing anything, enter into a separation contract (just an agreement between them but without any court orders), and file for divorce later if they decide they will not be reconciling.

I should note that since there are not many advantages to being legally separated over being divorced, not many couples ultimately choose to go that route.

For more information about this and other issues see our Question and Answer section of the website.

Contact a Seattle Legal Separation Attorney Today

When you are considering a divorce or legal separation, give us a call to make an appointment for an initial consultation where we can further discuss the specifics of your case. Call 286-784-3049 today, or use the form on our website, for a meeting with an experienced Seattle legal separation attorney.