Of course, the social system allows you to get a legal separation without a lawyer. Married couples who would prefer to live as separate entities but don’t want to follow a traditional divorce can file a legal separation in most states.
You can complete the whole process yourself without having to hire an attorney. When you are legally separated, you remain married, unlike in a divorce. Traditional divorce comes with downsides, and one such is taxes on the divorce settlement, which you may be able to get around. Nevertheless, legal separation still requires you to agree on asset division and other financial matters with your spouse.
Some couples choose a legal separation over divorce with religious, moral, and financial reasons being the most common. It is also used as a test run before filing a divorce.
Any agreement in a legal separation can set precedence if you decide to file for a divorce. Thus, don’t agree to vulnerable terms that could be held against you in a divorce settlement. For instance, if you agreed to continue paying the mortgage on your marital home while your partner is still living there, the court may order you to continue the payment, even after a divorce.
How to get a legal separation without a lawyer
The separation procedure can sometimes be demanding—you’d be doing the following to get a legal separation without a lawyer:
1. Check your state’s requirements
Begin the process by learning about your local residency requirements by checking the divorce laws. For a married couple to file legal separation in California, for instance, at least one of the parties must be residing in the state.
However, in the case of domestic partnerships, you and your spouse don’t have to be living in California before you can get a legal separation, provided the domestic partnership was registered in the state. In essence, you can only file a legal separation in a domestic partnership not registered in CA if you or your spouse resides in the state.
You can’t marry or enter into a domestic partnership with another person if you legally separate—Judicial Branch of California.
2. File separation petition
You can now file a legal separation petition at the court in the county where you reside. Contact an attorney, use online resources via your state’s website, or file in person with the court clerk, known as a pro se.
You can only do this after the residency requirements of your state are met.
Filing your legal separation requires a fee to be paid, which varies by county. We can’t estimate the correct fee as this varies by state. Please refer to your state’s website or use our comment section to get immediate assistance.
3. File a legal separation agreement
File a legal separation agreement along with your legal operation petition and make sure the agreement covers issues like:
- issues child custody;
- child support;
- distribution of marital assets;
- spousal support;
- who is responsible for paying debts;
- who lives where; and
- rules and guidelines (if any) that pertain to dating other people, which some states may consider adultery.
4. Serve the separation papers to your partner
Serve your partner the legal separation agreement you have filed if your spouse is not filing for separation jointly.
Your spouse now has a certain time in which to respond to your petition for a legal separation, which is typically 30 days—just like a divorce.
5. Discuss and resolve any issues
Your spouse has the right to file a counter-petition if the provisions in your petition are not acceptable to them. You will have to go before a judge to settle any outstanding issues with your spouse after exhausting the options of mediation or a law collaboration.
The legal separation process can be as complicated as that of a divorce though.
6. Sign and notarize the agreement
At this stage, all that is needed is for you and your spouse to sign and notarize the agreement if you have agreed to the provisions of the petition. The court clerk needs the signatures to enter the data into the court records for a judge’s approval.
However, there is one important thing to remember at this stage. Certain outcomes, particularly as it applies to custody or personal belongings, may be affected by anything you do before the court signs off on the separation agreement.
For instance, if you’re the party moving out of your home, you may be viewed by a judge as having abandoned the relationship and forfeited your rights to custody or ownership claims in the future. It simply means that you’ve “given up”.
7. Organize your records and complete the agreement
Your legal separation agreement will be filed and on record with the court clerk after a review and signature by a judge. The separation agreement will be the guideline you need to follow, so ensure to have copies yourself.
Also, be sure you are taking the right legal steps to protect yourself. Even though you’d be getting a legal separation without a lawyer, it’s reasonable to check with your local attorney to be sure you’re not making mistakes.
Legal separation could be better than a divorce
It is often an individual thing when it comes to picking between a legal separation and a divorce. A separation works for some people as it allows them to remain married while living separate lives since their religious or personal beliefs do not encourage divorce.
You will be entitled to certain benefits like social security and pensions that provide payments to surviving spouses if you get a legal separation because you somehow remain connected to each other. To receive Social Security and military benefits from your partner’s work, you need to be married for at least 10 years, thus, legal separation makes a lot of sense here since you stay technically married.
A legal separation also allows you to be eligible for health insurance coverage from the job of your spouse, but this isn’t the case with a divorce.
Another reason it could be a decent decision to file a legal separation is the benefit of continuing to file taxes jointly, which technically results in tax benefits.
When it comes to the children, a legal separation is much nicer to them as it does not sound devastating and final, compared to a divorce.
Finding the forms for separation
Visit your state or county’s court website to find the forms you need to begin a legal separation without a lawyer.
Moreover, you can pick up the forms in person and ask any questions you might have at the self-help center of your local court office. An alternative is to pay a small fee for the forms using online companies that may have options to mail them to your doorstep.
The requirements are generally the same as that of any divorce proceedings, though some additional forms may be required in some states.
Leave no loopholes when in your separation petition
If you have not asked for anything specific in your original petition, the judge will generally have nothing to award your case. Thus, make sure to cover everything you need in the legal separation agreement. Perform thorough research when preparing your petition. Consider the following:
- what you would prefer in terms of spousal support;
- child custody;
- child support and visitation; and
- what should happen to the marital home, assets, and debts.
Make sure to have an upfront agreement with your spouse for the whole process to go smoothly. Except for arrangements that are not in the best interest of the children or are unfair, the judge will not undo any others that are agreed upon by you and your partner.
It is considered contempt of court if the agreement is violated as all orders are enforceable, as contained in a legal separation agreement.
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