Divorce vs. Legal Separation in DC
Many people ask me whether they need a Legal Separation. It is important to understand what a Legal Separation is before you decide if it is necessary.
The main difference between a Legal Separation and a Divorce is that when the proceeding is over, you will still be married to your spouse.
A Legal Separation is a court proceeding but it does not dissolve your marriage. Only a divorce ends your marriage and gives you the freedom to remarry. You are not free to remarry if you are legally separated.
In a Legal Separation proceeding in DC, the court may order spousal support, child support, and may divide marital property.
However, most people decide that their money is better spent on negotiating a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement and then proceeding to file for an Uncontested Divorce. If you first file for a Legal Separation and you do want a divorce you will need to enlarge your Legal Separation into an Absolute Divorce when you have been separated for the required period of time.
You are not required to file for a Legal Separation in DC.
However, if you do, the grounds for legal separation are the same as for a divorce. You must be separated from your spouse. You have to be living apart or living separately under the same roof. The legal ground of mutual and voluntary separation is the same as for a divorce, except that there is no minimum time period required for your separation as there is for a divorce.
If your DC separation is not voluntary, then you must live separately and apart for a period of one year before you can file for a Legal Separation in DC. This ground is the same as the ground of one year separation for an Absolute Divorce.
If you negotiate a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement and resolve all of the marital issues, you can then begin the less expensive and less time-consuming process of filing for an Uncontested Divorce once you have been separated for the required period of time.
This is the best route to take unless you have a special situation, for example, your religion does not allow you to file for a divorce, or if your spouse is totally uncooperative in working out an Agreement and begins to spend all of the marital assets and you have not been separated for the required period of time to file for divorce.
It is always best to speak to a divorce attorney to decide the best course of action for your specific situation.