Marriages can be terminated in different ways, including divorce, dissolution and legal separation. People choose one over the other depending on the situation. Common law marriages are not recognized in Washington, so only legally married couples or registered domestic partners can file for legal separation. Those filing for legal separation must meet specific requirements.

Definition of Legal Separation by WIKIPEDIA:

Separation is a legal process by which a married couple may formalize a de facto separation while remaining legally married. A legal separation is granted in the form of a court order.

Furthermore, in cases where children are involved, a court order of legal separation often makes temporary arrangements for the care, custody, and financial support of the children (“for the time being”). Thus, part of the court order determines child custody. Some couples obtain a legal separation as an alternative to a divorce, based on moral or religious objections to divorce.

Legal separation does not automatically lead to divorce. The couple might reconcile, in which case they do not have to do anything in order to continue their marriage. If the two do not reconcile, and they wish to proceed with a divorce, they must file for divorce explicitly.

A legal separation occurs where spouses agree to separate from one another. The marriage remains legally intact, but the couple formally agrees to live separately. Conversely, a divorce is permanent and ends a marriage.

If you have decided that you no longer want to live with your spouse, but you do not want to end the marriage, you can get a legal separation. However, simply moving out of the home does not mean a legal separation–you must petition the court to grant you one. The form Petition for Legal Separation must be filled out and sent to the court for the separation to be legal.

The main reason to file for legal separation is to have legal documentation in place to ensure that all child and spousal support arrangements that are agreed upon by the separating parties are followed. Generally, child custody agreements are put in place as well. You and your spouse can create and sign a separate agreement which outlines child support payments, living arrangements and spousal support. To qualify for a legal separation, you must already be separated from your spouse due to no fault of your own. The process and cost for a legal separation is generally the same as a divorce.

In Washington State you do not have to enlist the services of an attorney to submit an application to the courts to make your separation agreement binding. One of the parties will however have to appear in court in order for the final orders to be signed even if you and your spouse have agreed to the separation terms either on your own or with the assistance of legal counsel. Although, if the separation is contentious, it may help to have legal counsel involved to determine what is fair to each party. After you are separated from your spouse the following list are things you should not do that might jeopardize your grounds for divorce or make it more difficult if you choose to file later.

  1. Don’t continue to have sexual relationships with your spouse.
  2. Don’t have a date stay overnight when your children are present it could be used against you later for denial of your custody or visitation
  3. Don’t leave important documents behind, make copies so that you have your own set and don’t have to go back and ask for them.
  4. Don’t leave your name on the utility bills, make sure you notify service providers and keep record of when your name was removed