Divorce vs. legal separation
In a divorce, a judge legally ends the marriage. Legal separation does not terminate the marriage. But courts can issue orders covering issues that also arise in a divorce dealing with property, debt, and children.
Legal separations last one year. After that, all legal separation orders expire and spouses must decide whether they want a divorce or reconciliation. If either spouse files for divorce during their legal separation, the separation ends and the divorce legal case begins. A spouse may not file for legal separation if their spouse already filed for divorce.
A spouse seeking legal separation must file a petition with the court containing reasons why the spouses cannot currently live together. At least one spouse must be an Indiana resident and a resident in the county where the petition was filed for at least six months before filing.
A spouse may ask the court to order child custody, possession of property and child support. Spouses may also seek temporary maintenance which are payments from one spouse to another during separation to preserve the family’s standard of living. Courts, if a spouse requests, may issue a temporary restraining order or a protective order.
Spouses and their children may request that the court order counseling to try to improve their marriage. Judges, however, cannot compel counseling if either spouse objects or there was any violence in the couple’s marriage or when they lived together.
Spouses just wanting to live apart
Couples do not have to file for legal separation just to live apart. But courts cannot issue orders on martial property, debt, child custody and visitation and other issues if neither spouse filed for legal separation. A spouse may also be liable for the other spouse’s debt, even if they are living apart, if there was no filing for divorce or separation.
An attorney can help a spouse consider whether separation is feasible and assure that all the forms are correctly prepared and filed. Lawyers can also help assure that best interests of the spouse and their children are protected.