Chandler legal separation attorney
Helping people in Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale, and other Phoenix Valley communities with legal separation and other family law issues
Is legal separation right for you in the event of a marital conflict? This can be a difficult question to answer. Legal separation may be suitable for some married couples facing relationship difficulties, but may be totally inappropriate for others. Only you and your spouse can properly answer that question. Regardless, the process can be as complicated as that of a divorce, so it’s critical that you have an experienced Chandler legal separation attorney by your side.
Definition of legal separation
You may be wondering: “Is this what happens when one of us moves out of the house?” No. That is physical separation, which has relevance in cases involving legal separation, divorce, and even unmarried partner or child custody proceedings, but is not itself a legal separation.
To legally separate, you or your spouse, or both of you jointly, must file a document with a court asking to be declared legally separated. This legal status gives both of you a time-out to decide what you want to do next: either get back together romantically, or get divorced.
In a legal separation, you get a decree. But do not misunderstand: This is not a decree of marital dissolution. It is a declaration of a temporary legal status that typically lasts for a year but can be shorter or longer depending on the actions and decisions of you and your spouse.
Physical separation as a requirement for legal separation
Intuitively, you would think that physical separation would be a requirement for legal separation. Interestingly, though, Arizona law is silent on whether the parties must be “living separate and apart,” the legal term of art for physical separation, to be considered legally separated.
If you are in a covenant marriage, though, physical separation can be important. In this situation, living under separate roofs voluntarily for at least two years can lead to legal separation. So can adultery; sexual, physical or emotional abuse of the other spouse, a child, or relative living in the marital household; abandonment for at least a year; drug or alcohol abuse; or other factors. Two years of physical separation, or the passage of one year after obtaining a legal separation decree, can lead to divorce.
Even with a regular marriage, to file for legal separation, at least one of you must have decided that “[t]he marriage is irretrievably broken or one or both of the parties desire to live separate and apart.”
During the legal separation, the court almost always refers the two of you to Conciliation Court. This is an arm of the court that offers marital counseling, mediation, and parent education classes. Be aware that any referral likely will be only for mediation—that is, to see whether you can agree on any of the decree terms—and/or a parenting and child custody review. It will not be for marital counseling.
If you think there is any chance you might want to try to reconcile, you should file for conciliation instead. Conciliation is a true cooling-off period of 60 days, with the possibility of renewal, that essentially puts on hold any possible filing or proceeding of an annulment, legal separation, or divorce. It includes a referral to Conciliation Court for a free session of marital counseling.
Legal separation and divorce
Regardless of the length of the legal separation or how far you are into it, a divorce filing ends a legal separation. Statistically, divorce is the most common ultimate outcome, and a legal separation is a tangible step in that direction. But a legal separation does not have to end in divorce. This is entirely up to you and your spouse.
You can look at it one of two ways: If you do get divorced down the road, legal separation is like a dry run that can prepare you for the divorce proceeding mentally and emotionally. The decrees are similar in terms of the items the court says must be addressed, including child custody, parenting time, child support, distribution of tax exemptions, spousal maintenance, and property and debt division. On the other hand, you could argue that you are just wasting time, money, and effort by going through what is nearly an identical process twice. Again, this is a decision for you and your spouse to make based on what is best for your family’s unique situation.