Understanding Legal Separation in Washington State

There is an option for couples experiencing marital problems that doesn’t involve divorce. This process is known as legal separation. Many couples opt to legally separate in lieu of divorce, so that they will have time to see if they can reconcile or because a divorce goes against their religious beliefs.  If you are considering separation from your spouse, you need to become familiar with the procedure.

A legal separation in Washington State allows a couple to formalize a separation while remaining legally married.  It is accomplished through a court order and is a legally binding consent decree.  Legal separation is not a requirement before filing for divorce and many couples are able to reconcile during this time.

One of the most common reasons couples choose to pursue a legal separation with the court is that it allows them to make financial arrangements, such as deciding who will pay the bills and who will retain certain property and possessions.  When the court is involved in the separation, temporary arrangements are made for the following:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Child visitation schedule
  • Division of assets and debts

Choosing to legally separate is not an easy decision to make.  If you are considering divorce or legal separation, you should contact an experienced Seattle family and divorce lawyer who can guide you through this difficult process. To find out how we can help you, contact us today at (425) 460-0550.

Common Legal Separation Myths Dispelled by a Seattle Divorce Attorney 

Legal separation can be a great choice for couples that no longer wish to share their lives and finances, but many don’t exactly understand what legal separation is or why it might work for some people better than a divorce. Let’s dispel some common myths and misunderstandings regarding legal separation in Washington State:

Myth #1: You only have to move out in order to have a legal separation.

When you or your spouse moves out of the house, you are informally separated. To get a legal separation, you have to file paperwork in court. Some couples may benefit from simply separating physically but not legally, while others prefer to split legally, especially for financial reasons. 

Myth #2: Legal separation is just like a divorce. 

It’s true that legal separation and divorce are more similar than many people think, but there are a few key differences. In a legal separation, you are still married to your partner in name, and you can still share some of the benefits that married couples have, such as health insurance and retirement benefits. In addition, you may still be considered married by your church. 

Myth #3: If we are legally separated, we can’t live together. 

Just as being married doesn’t require you to live under the same roof, being legally separated does not require you to live under different roofs. However, many legally separated couples choose to live apart from one another for a number of reasons. Some might be ascertaining whether a divorce is the right next step, while others may find it easier to separate their finances while living apart. 

Myth #4: If we are legally separated, we have to eventually divorce. 

Many couples that legally separate eventually divorce. However, some remain legally separated permanently while others decide to reconcile their marriage. It is important to understand that because couples choose legal separation for a variety of reasons, the next step after their legal separation differs. 

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Myth #5: There’s no good reason to get a legal separation in Washington.

It’s true that it can be difficult to understand the differences between divorce and legal separation—and that, for many, legal separation is not the best option. However, legal separation is the ideal next step in many circumstances. For example, couples may choose legal separation for religious reasons (if their church or place of worship frowns upon divorce) or if one spouse needs medical support and the other spouse provides a health insurance plan. Couples may also choose legal separation if they are considering divorce but would like to first choose a less drastic option.  

Myth #6: You never need a lawyer when filing for a legal separation.

Washington State couple facing legal separation

Just because legal separation isn’t as drastic a step as divorce does not mean that you do not need a family law attorney to help you through the process. In a legal separation, you still need to divide your assets and debts with your partner and come up with plans regarding your children, retirement, and living arrangements. If you have been married for a long time, have a lot of property, or have a complicated split, an attorney may be able to protect your rights and help you through the process. 

Although some legal separations are cut and dry, others are not. In addition, just like a divorce, you may not know what you are entitled to or what you should fight for without speaking to a lawyer. You may even wish to speak with a lawyer to discuss whether legal separation or divorce is the better choice for you and your family.

Five Reasons Couples Choose Legal Separation

The differences between divorce and legal separation in Washington State can be subtle, but they are extremely important when it comes to your property, your children, your relationship, and your future. While legal separation is not the best choice for some couples that want to end their relationship, it can be an ideal option for others.

Here are five reasons that legal separation might be the right choice for you:

  • Separation gives couples a chance to continue to work on their marriage. While divorce is permanent, legal separation can serve as a trial run for couples that are unsure about their decision to end their time together or that would like the opportunity to reconcile down the road.
  • Separation preserves important benefits and insurance policies that would be severed in a divorce. If you and your spouse want to keep your health insurance, life insurance, investments, or other financial plans in place while severing other financial ties, legal separation might be the best choice for you at this time.
  • Separation provides an intermediate step between being together and getting divorced. It can be extremely shocking for a family to go through a divorce in a matter of a few short months. Legal separation gives everyone a chance to adapt to a new life without suddenly being thrown into a new family structure.
  • Legal separation may be more accepted in your church. Some couples choose legal separation because their religious values make choosing a divorce difficult.
  • Legal separation makes it possible to live separate lives, but still be connected in some ways. Some couples may want to live separately but do not want the option to remarry. Others might want to move on but are simply no interested in dissolving their marriage. In these cases, a legal separation is a valid option.

Our Seattle Divorce Attorneys Are Ready To Help

If you are considering a divorce or legal separation, you may wish to have the assistance of a Seattle family lawyer. At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we can help you navigate the process and make certain you get what you deserve before starting a fresh chapter in your life. Our family law firm provides personal attention to each and every one of our clients in the Washington area, including King County and Snohomish County.  Call us today for more information at 425-460-0550.

Molly B. Kenny
Founder and Principal Divorce Attorney
Molly B. Kenny's Bellevue family law office is conveniently located on Lake Bellevue Drive, making it easily accessible to those in the greater Seattle area. Our divorce and child custody lawyers help men and women get the information, guidance, and compassionate representation they need.
Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny