One of the steps couples take on their way to a divorce is called a “separation,” where they begin to disconnect from each other. While most spouses change their living arrangements, with one or both parties moving out of the marital residence, some couples continue living in the same place, but not “together.”
What Is A Separation?
This term means different things in different states. You may have heard that to get a divorce, you need to “file for a legal separation.” In some states, that’s how a divorce proceeding is initiated. In other states, filing for a legal separation means you’re not married, but not yet free to remarry. Decisions on child custody, property division, and other issues are completed and signed by a judge before the final divorce decree.
In Texas, “separation” simply means that you and your spouse now live apart, or at least have separate lives and no longer function as a couple. There is no legal status in Texas for “separation.” You are either married or you aren’t. However, the parties can ask the court for intervention as needed.
Some couples separate but never divorce, for different reasons:
· Religious beliefs (some that don’t believe in divorce)
· Keeping health insurance, disability or other benefits intact
· Staying married for the requisite ten years to allow the other spouse to eventually collect additional Social Security
The term “separation” can be a number of different things. Some couples may want to “cool off” after going through a difficult time, and work on repairing their relationship. This is sometimes called a “trial separation.” Taking some time apart can diffuse a difficult or painful situation, and allow both parties time to decide what direction to take. Some couples start marriage counseling and work on repairing their relationship, and many eventually reconcile.
Other couples may need some “time off” to figure out if they want to go the extra step and permanently end their marriage with a divorce. For couples who ultimately divorce, a period of separation gives both parties time to work out custody and other necessary arrangements before meeting with a divorce attorney or actually filing a divorce petition.
When financial circumstances prevent the parties from dividing their home, some couples have a “psychological separation.” They still live together in the same place, but not together, and are no longer a “couple.” They may still live together after the divorce is final for purely financial reasons, but are simply roommates at this point. Again, this isn’t a legal definition, but simply a choice some couples make for themselves.
Informal Separation—The Partition And Exchange Agreement
When couples have complex financial arrangements, one way to protect their rights is to initiate a partition and exchange agreement. This allows couples to transfer interest from one party to another and making it the separate property of only one of the parties. The agreement has to be in writing and signed by both spouses (it’s best to have an attorney draw this up for you) then recorded in the deed in the county where the property is and the county where the couple resides.
The advantage of dividing property in this fashion is that if you and your spouse do eventually divorce, the court won’t be able to take it. It’s now separate property and not part of the marital estate. However, if you and your spouse reconcile, you may want to nullify this agreement. It will still be valid when one party dies, creating a different set of legal issues in the estate process.
Other separation agreements are contracts, not a court order, so a judge wouldn’t be able to enforce it if one party decided to violate the agreement. You would have to file a lawsuit against your spouse.
Contact Fort Worth’s Compassionate Divorce Attorney
Wendy L. Hart is an experienced Fort Worth family law attorney who has been helping people throughout Tarrant County who are facing divorce. As a divorcee herself, Wendy understands the process as well as the difficulties involved. We can provide full representation both for men and women and will work to ensure you are treated fairly, as well as protect the interests of you and your children.
Visit our Mansfield office, or call us at (817) 842-2336. We’re ready to help.