Legal How-To: Getting a Separation

By Betty Wang, JD on October 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Do you know how to get a separation? Often, a married couple will consider a separation -- either to try to sort out their issues while apart, or as a first step toward divorce.

Regardless of how it pans out, the fact is that many couples may need some time apart. But note that informally separating is much different than pursuing a legal separation.

Here are the steps you'll need to take when it comes to getting a separation:

  1. Decide what kind of separation you need. It's crucial to decide what kind of separation is best for your particular situation. An informal separation may just entail living apart for a while, without any other formal requirements or legal status change -- in other words, you don't have to take any legal action. A more formal separation, otherwise known as a legal separation, involves letting the courts sign off on the division of assets and other important issues like child custody and visitation. It's much like a divorce, except that in a legal separation, the couple will still be legally married; there may be financial, religious, or other reasons for such an arrangement.
  2. File for a legal separation. If you decide on a legal separation, you'll need to file for one. The requirements for a legal separation typically will mirror the requirements for a divorce. Usually, you'll first need to find out whether or not residency requirements are met. Your other spouse must also be served with the proper documentation as well.
  3. Draft a separation agreement. In most cases, you'll hammer out the terms of your separation with your spouse and/or attorney (or even a mediator) and draft a separation agreement. This agreement typically includes issues such as the division of assets and liabilities, and child custody.
  4. Sign the agreement and get a judge to approve. Once you've agreed on a separation agreement, make sure that all parties involved sign it (you may have to do it in the presence of a notary public); you'll then need to get a judge to approve it, once he or she is properly satisfied that the agreement was properly and fairly negotiated.

Need More Help?

A separation is often the first step toward divorce, which is already not an easy process. But fortunately, an experienced divorce attorney can help you take care of all the legal requirements involved, to ensure that it all pans out as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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