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How does Washington's legal separation process work?

Other than death, marriages are ended primarily by divorce in the United States, including in Washington. However, a flickering marital relationship can be temporarily or even permanently suspended by legal separation. This process allows couples to literally part from each other as in a divorce, but they remain technically married. This gives a couple a chance to figure out what they want. They can reconcile and remain married, transition to divorce or simply remain separated.

Many couples choose legal separation over divorce because of religious beliefs, economic realities or other reasons. Like many other states, Washington allows both separations and divorces on a no-fault basis, meaning neither partner must prove wrongdoing by the other. Instead, couples can simply file a decree of legal separation, a contract that establishes that both parties have agreed to part ways. Whether this is only temporary or permanent comes down to the couple and their decisions after separating.

When filing a separation decree, the couple should work out arrangements for dividing property, a parenting plan if they have children, any financial support that one spouse may need and any other responsibilities and obligations that seem appropriate. If an agreement cannot be met or if certain issues are being contested and cannot be immediately settled, a couple may wish to consider mediation. If mediation does not work, a trial to settle the issues will be scheduled.

In Washington, the waiting period for the finalization of legal separation is three months. The time frame also gives a couple a chance to reconcile. During this time, the court can issue temporary orders to address parenting plans, financial arrangements and even the behavior of one or both spouses if their relationship calls for some intervention.

Source: Wsba.org, "Dissolution: what you should know...," Accessed on Dec. 10, 2014

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