January 14th, 2023
What’s the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation in Washington?
When couples enter into marriage, they are hoping for a loving and lasting relationship. However, people and circumstances change, and you or your spouse may find that your marriage is no longer serving you. Even if your decision to separate is mutual and amicable, the prospect of navigating the divorce or legal separation process can be daunting and emotionally challenging. As you start exploring your options for dissolving your marriage in the Seattle area, it’s important to discuss your goals and concerns with a trusted and compassionate attorney. Together, you can identify the most appropriate course of action that allows you to lay the groundwork for a strong and stable future. This post will address two common terms you may hear during the marriage dissolution process: divorce and legal separation. Your attorney can help you determine the most supportive strategy for ending your marriage and beginning the next chapter of your life.
Divorce and Legal Separation Share Many Similarities
First, it’s important to understand that divorce and legal separation are fairly similar legal processes in Washington State. Both processes involve the division of assets and debts. Couples with children must also create agreements regarding child support obligations and parenting plans. Whether you handle these negotiations and decisions through mediation, arbitration, or litigation, you can expect to cover topics relevant to both divorce and legal separation. From a procedural standpoint, these processes involve similar steps, such as filing a summons and petition with the court, participating in mediation, and taking the matter to court if necessary.
How Legal Separation Differs From Divorce in Washington
The main difference between a divorce and a legal separation is the end result and speed the separation can be achieved. While a divorce decree legally dissolves the marriage, spouses who pursue a legal separation still have a legal relationship at the end of the process. Once legally separated, the spouses will obtain a decree that details the obligations and rights of the couple that, while still legally married, no longer lives as a “traditional” married couple. These days, most people who choose legal separation do so for personal or religious reasons. Additionally, divorce involves a mandatory 91-day waiting period the couple must observe between filing for divorce and finalizing the paperwork – even if the parties fully agree on the terms of the divorce. In contrast, legal separation has no mandatory waiting period before the court can grant the request – if you and your spouse agree on terms you could be legally separated in just a few days.
Just keep in mind that after 6 months of legal separation, either party can convert the arrangement into a full divorce at their discretion.
Why Some Couples Choose Legal Separation Over Divorce
Although most spouses decide to pursue a divorce, there are some reasons why certain couples may seek a legal separation instead. For example, if the couple wants to separate but both partners want to continue receiving employer-sponsored benefits, they may find that legal separation allows them to achieve this goal. Some couples have religious reasons for wanting to separate instead of dissolving the marriage, while others may elect to pursue a legal separation because they are not yet fully invested in ending the marriage permanently.
Remarriage and Legal Separation
If you are considering a legal separation, it’s important to recognize that neither party may legally remarry someone else, as they are still technically married to their prior partner. However, if the spouses decide to reunite, they may resume their marriage without having to legally remarry one another. In this situation, they must file a motion to vacate the Decree of Legal Separation for the court’s approval. If they reconcile before the Decree of Legal Separation has been issued, the couple can request that their case be dismissed before the court officially grants the decree.
Compassionate Legal Support When You Need it Most
The ending of any relationship can be difficult and stressful. Even if you and your spouse have slowly grown apart and agree that separation is the best option for you both, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the divorce process. Although some couples may decide to navigate the divorce or legal separation process without enlisting legal counsel, working with an experienced and compassionate Seattle attorney can give you the clarity and confidence you need to move forward. Your lawyer can help you assess your options and support you through every step of the process, working hard to keep costs down and protecting your best interests. Ending your marriage can be a vulnerable experience, so finding a trusted divorce and legal separation attorney to guide you through the process is highly recommended. Together, you can lay the groundwork for a bright and stable future.
If you have questions about divorce or legal separation in the Seattle area, reach out to the dedicated and compassionate legal team at the Hemmat Law Group by calling (206) 682-5200.
With over thirty years of experience, Steven A. Hemmat is dedicated to providing competent legal advice in all of his practice areas — family law, general civil litigation, personal injury and probate.