Ending a marriage is an incredibly stressful and expensive process, even if married spouses decide together that they need to end their marriage. Unfortunately, many couples who have marital problems rush into the divorce process, only to discover the true finality of the situation is more than they were prepared to accept.

If you are considering ending your marriage in Tulsa, OK, or if you and your spouse have been having marital problems for a long time, it is crucial to take the time you need to carefully weigh this decision. If there is any hope for reconciliation in the future, or if you are unsure whether divorce is truly the best option for resolving your current marital problems, a legal separation could be a better solution.

What Is Legal Separation?

Separating from your spouse can be a temporary solution that provides both you and your spouse time to cool off, reflect, and reevaluate the problems in your marriage that have caused you to consider divorce. There are two forms of separation: informal and formal. With an informal separation, there are no legal steps that you must fulfill, and the separation may only last a few weeks or months. By comparison, a formal, legal separation is recognized by the court. If you and your spouse choose to divorce in the future, your separation could serve as a procedural springboard for the divorce process and make it easier for both of you.

Informal separation is best when a married couple needs time to reevaluate their problems, but they are not having success with a constructive discussion at home. Time and space can provide the spouses with the relief they need to approach their marital struggle more objectively, which may ultimately lead to a reconciliation. Conversely, an informal separation may show both the spouses that ending their marriage or at least formalizing their separation would suit their best interests.

When a couple becomes legally separated, they remain married but establish separate residences. Typically, you cannot remain living together with your spouse if you are legally separated. The court’s legal separation order will also outline provisions that mirror those of a standard divorce order. Both spouses must abide by these terms for the duration of their legal separation.

What Does Legal Separation Entail?

Like divorce, legal separation requires the spouses to reach mutually agreeable terms concerning various aspects of their marriage. A legal separation can potentially include:

  • A child custody and child support order. If the separated spouses have children together and plan to establish separate residences, the court must approve of a child custody order that suits the children’s best interests. Depending on how the court decides to arrange custody, this process may involve a child support determination and establishing visitation rights for a noncustodial parent.
  • Alimony or spousal support. If one spouse is financially dependent on the other and the couple decides to separate, the higher-earning spouse will likely need to pay alimony to the financially dependent spouse. If the couple later decides to proceed with a divorce, their alimony terms may remain the same as they were during separation, but the court is likely to adjust their alimony terms to reflect the permanence of the divorce.
  • Financial responsibilities of each spouse. The court will carefully review the financial records for both spouses to determine each of the spouse’s responsibilities for paying certain debts.
  • Property division. Oklahoma is an equitable distribution state when it comes to marital property in a divorce. The legal separation process will require formalizing a property division agreement that equitably distributes the couple’s marital property. Later, if the couple decides to divorce, this can significantly reduce the time required to complete their divorce proceedings.
  • Responsibility for legal fees. One spouse may be legally responsible for paying the other spouse’s legal fees in some separation cases.
  • Case-specific terms. Every legal separation case is unique, and the court may also enforce additional provisions that apply specifically to distinctive aspects of the separating couple’s situation.

Once the court has decided these terms, the spouses must provide their new contact information and establish their separate addresses. After the legal separation is approved, the couple remains legally married and can take advantage of many benefits legal marriage provides without living together.

Benefits of Legal Separation

Many couples choose legal separation as either a preliminary step in divorce or as an alternative to divorce. In the case of the former, legal separation can allow divorcing spouses to have time to cool off and adjust to their new realities without enduring the stress of the divorce process. Once they are ready to complete their divorce, the terms of their legal separation may remain essentially unchanged, and the divorce process can complete much more quickly. When it comes to serving as an alternative to divorce, legal separation is beneficial in many ways.

The legally separated couple can continue to file joint tax returns if they would suit their financial interests better than filing separately. They may also continue to share employer-provided health insurance plans and other forms of insurance coverage. Legal separation is also a viable alternative to divorce when a married couple’s religious beliefs prohibit divorce, but they no longer wish to live together.

Legal Separation Can Make Divorce Easier

Suppose a separated couple decides to divorce in the future. In that case, their legal separation will make the divorce process much faster, and it’s possible that the judge overseeing their divorce may not need to alter the current terms of their legal separation in approving the divorce. Thus, unless either of the spouses has experienced significant changes to their circumstances since the separation was approved, the judge may leave their separation order unchanged.

Ultimately, taking advantage of legal separation instead of rushing headlong into the divorce process can offer several benefits. For example, suppose the separation shows the couple that they are better off ending their marriage. In that case, legal separation can provide a financially dependent spouse with the time to establish a livelihood, so they are no longer dependent on the other. Separation can also significantly reduce the stress and time required for completing a divorce. If you are unsure whether legal separation would suit your best interests, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced Tulsa, OK, divorce attorney about your concerns.