A legal separation in Washington is very similar to an uncontested divorce and offers many of the same legal remedies. The court, like in divorce proceedings, has the authority to divide up property of the marriage, enter parenting plans, and order support. Although the specifics are different, legal separations can still be emotionally fraught and maintaining a level head can be difficult. Here is where our Northwest Law Group Bellevue family law attorneys come in. They will leverage their experience and knowledge of the system to help you make informed, strategic decisions.Why Legal Separation?
Before explaining the specific differences between a divorce and legal separation, you may be wondering why anyone would take this option over a normal divorce. The most obvious difference is the name, which does not carry with it the same stigma that “divorce” does in many communities. Often times in religious contexts, the legal separation option allows married couples to divide their assets and substantively separate without being ostracized from their community.
There are also substantive differences between a divorce and legal separation, most of them procedural. Unlike in divorce cases, the parties technically do not have to wait the 90-day cooling off period required of couples before being able to enter final orders and complete the divorce. Although, this is unlikely to be the motivating factor in opting for a legal separation over a divorce. If you are unsure whether a legal separation or a divorce is the right call for you and your spouse, our Bellevue family law attorneys can help analyze each option in light of your particular circumstances.
Another difference is that in a legal separation, one spouse can remain on the other spouse’s insurance plan. So, if you and your spouse love your healthcare coverage, if the parties mutually agree to it, you or your spouse could stay covered even after the substantive separation has occurred. It is important to note though that this is not a right you have in a legal separation matter. Rather, a legal separation can act as a vehicle for maintaining you or your spouse’s insurance for the other only if both parties mutually agree to the continued coverage.
One important consideration is whether or not you ever plan on or think you will want to remarry. Legally separated couples are not allowed to get remarried, as they are still technically married to the spouse they separated from. With this said, part of a legal separation is the right to convert that separation to a marriage.Conversion as Matter of Right
A legal separation can be converted to a divorce quickly and easily by other of the parties. As per RCW 26.09.150 (2)(a), no sooner than six months after the time the final legal separation order was entered either party can submit a motion to the court to convert it to a divorce. The court will enter said motion absent certain, highly specific circumstances such as a previous agreement barring either spouse from conversion. If you are in such a situation, retaining an attorney is strongly advised, as the addition of a contract barring conversion complicates the process. Luckily, our family law attorneys working in Bellevue are experienced in such matters and can help guide you through the conversion and resolve any issues arising from the original contract.
The fact that either party can convert the separation into a divorce makes a legal separation a solid option for couples who are unsure if they actually want to get a divorce or not. Going through the legal separation process, the couple can extricate themselves from each other’s lives, oftentimes providing needed space to fully evaluate if a divorce is the right move. For this reason, if you are unsure about whether or not to commit to a divorce, call our Bellevue office today and one of our knowledgeable family law attorneys will be there to help.