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How does legal separation differ from a divorce?

Many married couples who decide to take a break from their relationships by separating often feel anger and resentment toward one another. This is as true in Washington as it is in Tennessee. Sometimes, though, couples merely need time away from the relationship so they can decide whether they want to continue working on their marriage or part ways permanently. This is why some couples in relationship trouble choose to file for legal separation rather than divorce.

What makes legal separation different from divorce? First, a husband and wife may live apart but remain legally married. If the couple works out their differences, they can get back together, generally with the idea that they can continue to work out their differences.

What about the rights of each spouse? Would their time apart cause trouble with child custody and other marital issues? It depends on the couple and their specific situation, but to avoid problems, they can enter into a separation agreement. The agreement is similar to a divorce settlement in many ways, providing specific details about child custody, property division, division of debts and other issues. If a couple later decides that divorce is what they really want, the provisions of a separation agreement can become the basis of a divorce settlement.

However, there is also what is known as a "trial separation." This type of separation has no real legal impact on the couple; it is simply a time during which the couple lives apart to work through issues that may be present in the marriage. During this time, any property and debt accrued by the pair is considered shared property, as there is no legal separation occurring.

Source: About.com, "What is the Difference Between a Legal Separation and Divorce?" Cathy Meyer, accessed on Aug. 3, 2014

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