You may have known married couples who choose a “legal separation” over a divorce – for example, for religious reasons when the couple’s religious beliefs forbid divorce. What exactly is legal separation and how does it work? Is legal separation an option in the state of Virginia? Can a Roanoke divorce lawyer help?

Unlike many states, Virginia doesn’t recognize “legal separation” as a legal status. You are either married, or you’re divorced. However, you can take some steps to protect yourself, your children, and your interests if you separate from your partner – whether or not your end goal is divorce.

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF IN A SEPARATION?

What are those steps? Marital partners in Virginia who want to separate – and who want to begin the divorce process – have the option of negotiating a “separation agreement” and/or filing for “separate maintenance.”

signing agreement

A separation agreement can resolve issues like the division and distribution of assets and debts, child custody, child support, and visitation. A separation agreement lets Virginia couples establish something similar to the “legal separation” status that is recognized in other states.

By creating a separation agreement that is mutually acceptable to both partners in advance of filing divorce papers, divorcing couples in Virginia may be able to save both time and money in a divorce procedure.

PRIOR TO DIVORCE, WHY IS A SEPARATION AGREEMENT A GOOD IDEA?

Almost all of the matters that will have to be dealt with in a divorce can be resolved in advance with a separation agreement. The more that the spouses can agree upon in advance, the easier and less costly it will be to divorce.

You must carefully consider the terms and conditions of a separation agreement because it may become the basis for your final divorce decree. Discuss the separation agreement with your lawyer and have your questions answered and your concerns addressed before you sign it.

Whether or not divorce is the final goal, an experienced Roanoke family law attorney can help you craft a separation agreement that is fair and that protects the interests of both spouses. The agreement may go into effect prior to or simultaneous to the physical separation of the parties.

WHY DO COUPLES SEPARATE WITHOUT DIVORCING?

Why do some couples separate if they do not intend eventually to divorce? Apart from religious reasons, some couples may feel that they can’t afford to divorce, or they may not be certain that they want to take that final step and obtain a divorce.

Additionally, in a separation, spouses do not lose benefits – such as insurance coverage – that would be lost in a divorce.

courthouse in Roanoke

If you and your spouse have separated, but you do not intend to divorce, you may also be able to request a court order for “separate maintenance” to resolve any disagreements regarding spousal support, child support, custody, and/or visitation.

WHAT IS REQUIRED TO OBTAIN A NO-FAULT DIVORCE IN VIRGINIA?

To obtain a divorce in Virginia, most couples will first have to live separately for one year. But if you do not have minor children, and if you already have a separation agreement, a divorce may be obtained after only six months. Virginia allows no-fault divorce on either of these grounds:

a one-year separation
a six-month separation with a separation agreement in place and no minor children

If you seek a no-fault divorce on the basis of the first option – a one-year separation with no formal separation agreement – how can you demonstrate to the court that you and your spouse have in fact been separated for a full year?

CAN YOU PROVE HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN SEPARATED?

In many cases, when one partner or the other decides to dissolve a marriage, there may be a text message, a voice mail, or an email that indicates a date. It is best to corroborate the date that your separation begins with some kind of documentation – or with a formal separation agreement.

Of course, you and your partner may live separately for any length of time, but if you intend to use a formal separation agreement as the basis for a divorce here in Virginia, you must live separately from your spouse and have the agreement in effect for a minimum of six months.

divorcing couple

Along with no-fault divorce, Virginia also permits divorce based on fault, on grounds such as cruelty, abandonment, and adultery.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK TO A DIVORCE ATTORNEY?

In Virginia, when grounds exist for a fault-based divorce, and the partners have separated, but neither wants to divorce (let’s say that their beliefs prohibit divorce), a court order for separate maintenance can resolve spousal support, child support, custody, and/or visitation disputes.

To protect yourself, your children, and your interests, it is best to consult a qualified Virginia divorce lawyer or a family law attorney before you take any action to initiate a separation or a divorce.

divorce attorney in VA

Before you sign any document regarding a separation or a divorce – even an informal agreement – discuss the practical and legal ramifications of the agreement with your family law attorney.

HOW WILL A FAMILY LAW FIRM IN VA HELP YOU?

Your attorney will see to it that you – and your kids, if you are a parent – are treated fairly in a separation or a divorce and that your rights and your long-term interests are fully protected.

In some cases, separating from a spouse can be almost as difficult – practically and emotionally – as divorcing a spouse. Separation and divorce are never easy. There is always an emotional cost, and if you and your spouse are parents, ending your marriage will be even harder.

You will need a lawyer who will be sensitive to your needs but aggressive when protecting your rights and interests. When you are ready to separate, or if you know the marriage is going to end, get the legal help you need at once. A good attorney’s help is your right.

The decisions that you make in a separation or a divorce may have a lasting impact on your life and your children’s lives. You must have the sound legal advice, the insights, guidance, and aggressive legal representation that an experienced Roanoke family law attorney can provide.