In the state of Washington, the court permits couples who wish to legally separate to do so without filing for a divorce. This option is available for those who may not wish to engage in a formal divorce for any number of reasons, including financial concerns, personal or religious objections to divorce, concerns for the children, or if the couple is unsure about whether they’re ready to divorce at all.
If you’re thinking about a legal separation in Washington, here’s what you should know about the process, including the advantages and disadvantages of separation versus divorce, whether you need a lawyer’s help to create your separation agreement, and how to get legal help with a separation or divorce.
Advantages of Legal Separation
The process for a legal separation is nearly identical to the process for a divorce. In a legal separation, you file a petition with the court that is similar to a divorce petition. Since Washington is a community property state with specific rules about the division of assets acquired by either partner during a marriage, dividing up your marital property (including debts) will also be required as a part of that process, just like in a divorce. Partners may come to a mutual agreement about what’s fair or may rely on the court’s help in splitting the marital assets fairly.
Much like with a divorce, it will also be necessary to make arrangements for the children in your separation agreement, including a parenting plan. It should include who will maintain physical and legal custody of the children, visitation rights, and plans for child support payments.
Why Legally Separate Instead of Divorce
The key difference is that after the legal separation has been filed, in the eyes of the law, the couple remains legally married and may not divorce until six months have passed. This can allow both partners time to disentangle their lives from the other and make financial arrangements, find housing, and work through asset division. After the six months have passed, the separation may be transitioned into a divorce by either partner by filing a petition with the court. Some couples choose to use the six months to work on aspects of their relationship so they may reconcile, in which case the separation can be ended without needing to go through the legal process of re-marrying.
Creating a Separation Agreement
Many people wonder if they can create a separation agreement on their own, without involving an attorney, and the answer is yes. The state of Washington does not require a lawyer’s help to create a legal separation agreement, and the forms are available online through the website of the Washington Courts.
However, keep in mind that it may not be in your best interests to sign a legal separation agreement without the advice of an attorney. Your separation agreement is considered a contract, and you want to protect your rights. Remember, the terms of your legal separation are almost exactly like those of a divorce—the biggest difference being only that after a legal separation, you cannot remarry without first obtaining an actual divorce. Your attorney can help you make sure that the terms of your separation agreement are fair and you’re receiving your due share, especially when there are significant assets at stake.
A major advantage to having an attorney help with your separation agreement is if you and your ex-partner do decide to go ahead with the divorce. After the six-month waiting period is up, you’ll already have an attorney on your side who knows you and is familiar with your situation, ready to help you with your unique family needs. On the other hand, if you and your partner reconcile, your attorney will be able to reverse the separation with a minimum of hassle, saving you time and headache.
Get Legal Help for a Separation Agreement
The Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny has decades of family law experience and is dedicated to helping families like yours move forward into a new chapter of their lives after a separation or divorce. Our office is conveniently located in Bellevue, so please call us, or click the contact link to arrange a private consultation with an attorney who can help you today.