What Is A Legal Separation?

If you’re considering splitting with your spouse, you have several options to end the relationship. While the most common choice is a divorce, many couples choose to do a legal separation instead because it can benefit each party. Legal separation may be defined differently in different states. We’ve put together this guide to answer your questions about legal separation in Arizona, including the most important: what is a legal separation? 

The Meaning of Legal Separation

Legal separation occurs when a couple decides to live apart or financially separate but legally stay married. Legal separations are often the result of a mutual agreement between both spouses.  It is important to note that, although the process is very similar to divorce, a legal separation is not the same as a divorce. If you wish to remarry, you must file for divorce from your separated partner. 

What is the Purpose of a Legal Separation?

There are several reasons many of our divorce mediation clients choose a Legal Separation instead of a Divorce.  Most couples choose to legally separate to retain the benefits of marriage, such as life or health insurance and social security, while living separately. Many couples also opt for legal separation due to religious reasons. A legal separation is also a good option for couples who aren’t ready to call it quits completely. By legally separating, you leave the door open to reconcile or eventually move back in together. Conversely, a legal separation is a helpful first step to a less stressful divorce. 

What are the Grounds for Legal Separation?

Couples who wish to legally separate must file a petition with the court requesting a Legal Separation. They do not need to allege any marital misconduct.  Instead, for a court to grant legal separation to a couple, the court must find:

  1. The marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken or the parties desire to live separate and apart;
  2. The conciliation provisions of A.R.S. §25-381.09 either do not apply or have been met; and
  3. Respondent does not object to a decree of legal separation.

Limitations of a Legal Separation

There are two main limitations of legal separation:

  • You cannot remarry. If you are legally separated and begin dating someone new, you cannot marry them until your prior marriage has been terminated through divorce. 
  • It may end up costing more. You may end up having to pay double the court fees if you file a legal separation and decide to get divorced later on. However, many couples plan to stay legally separated for quite some time, so the benefits you receive during your legal separation may outweigh the costs of a divorce.
  • You have to go through the court process again. If you decide to convert your Legal Separation to a Dissolution (Divorce), you will have to re-file with the court and go through the process again.

The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce in Arizona

Even though you may understand the advantages and limitations of a legal separation, you may still be wondering how legal separation is different from a divorce. In Arizona, the processes for legal separation and divorce are almost identical. The only real difference is that after a legal separation, you are still married; but after a divorce, you are restored to your status as a single person and can remarry.  You will still have to divide all your assets and debts and determine whether there will be spousal maintenance.  Your finances will basically be divided the same as in the divorce process.

Download Our Free Divorce Preparation Checklist

If you’re about to get a divorce or legal separation, the best thing you can do for yourself is be prepared. At Affordable Mediation, we have over 15 years of experience helping Arizona families through divorce and separation. Download our FREE Divorce Preparation Checklist or call our office today to learn more about how to get the most out of your divorce.