Legal Separation Washington State
What is a legal separation?
A legal separation is a process that allows a couple to separate, while remaining legally married. The separation is filed at a Washington county’s superior court and similar to divorce, spouses make many of the same major decisions. For example, spouses will divide assets, create parenting plans and work out support.
While relatively uncommon, legal separation can be the best choice under the right circumstances. Legal separations can ensure that one spouse is not liable for the actions of another, a spouse still has access to healthcare, and couples have time to transition into separation before divorce.
Why would you get a legal separation instead of a divorce?
Legal separation has a number of benefits when compared to divorce. Whether it is the best choice for your situation depends on if one of the following applies to you.
The main reason to choose a legal separation is for medical benefits. Once a divorce is finalized, you will no longer be eligible for medical benefits from your spouse’s employer. However, most insurers will keep you on the plan if you are legally separated.
In addition, military benefits, social security benefits, and tax benefits are effected by divorce. It may be in your interest to choose legal separation to preserve those benefits.
Immigration status can also be affected by divorce. On the other hand, legal separation will not have as much of an impact on your path to citizenship. It’s important to reach out to an immigration attorney to decide if a legal separation may be a better choice.
Lastly, legal separation does not carry the social stigma that many people associate with divorce. For example, some religious communities are unaccepting of divorce and a legal separation can be a way to move forward from the relationship without distancing yourself from your social group.
How to file for legal separation?
In order to file for legal separation you’ll need to prepare a petition for legal separation, along with a confidential information form and certificate of legal separation. Take this paperwork to your local courty superior court or mail it to the clerk’s office at Wahkiakum or Lincoln County. You’ll need to pay the filing fee, which should be between $314 and $324 dollars, depending on the county.
Once the case is filed and assuming you’ve agreed on the major issues, you will be able to present the final documents to a judge in ex parte court shortly after. If you’re represented by an attorney your attorney can finalize the legal separation right away. If you filed pro se, you can schedule a time to see the judge at the family law facilitator’s office. Before your court date you’ll want to be sure to complete any required court classes and have your final documents in order.
How long does it take to get a legal separation in Washington?
Expect your legal separation to take anywhere from a week to a year. An agreed separation can be finalized almost immediately. Unlike divorce in Washington, which requires a 90 day waiting period before finalization, a legal separation has no waiting period. However, if you’re unable to agree on the issues you’ll need to work out the details of the separation. This could last through trial, which may be set a year out from when you filed the case.
Disadvantages of legal separation
The major drawback to legal separation is that it can’t be easily reversed. Practically speaking it is a divorce. Many people believe that if they reconcile they can dismiss the separation and it will be like it never happened, but that is not the case. In order to restore the marriage, spouses will need to convert the legal separation into a divorce . Afterwards they can remarry.
Legal separation keeps a marriage intact for at least 6 months, sometimes longer. This means that neither person can remarry until the separation is eligible for conversion and a court approves the change to a divorce.
After legal separation your spouse still has the power to make major medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Often people execute a power of attorney to remove that ability.
How long can you be legally separated?
A legal separation will not automatically turn into a divorce after a set amount of time. This means that there is no maximum amount of time you can be legally separated.
Once approved by a court, a legal separation must be in place for a minimum of six months. However, spouses can agree to have it in place for a longer time period.
After the minimum time period expires either spouse can request the court convert the legal separation into a divorce. The conversion is a simple process and can be done by completing a couple forms and setting a hearing for court review.