By Tracy Achen
After making the decision to split, many women wonder how to file for a legal separation and what needs to be included in the separation agreement. Before you get started, you need to understand that a separation agreement is a legally binding contract. Therefore, you should put just as much thought into your legal separation as you would any divorce agreements.
Most importantly, not all states have laws specifically addressing the concept of a legal separation. The states which don't acknowledge legal separation are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
If you live in one of these states, getting an ante-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement can help spell out many of the same provisions (you can also read Can You Get a Legal Separation in TX).
Since state laws differ in regards on how to file for a legal separation, it's a good idea to consult a lawyer about your specific situation. To get the process started, you will first need to meet your state's residency requirements as they relate to separation and divorce issues. If you have lived in the state long enough to meet the residency requirements, you will first need to file a petition for a legal separation. You can either retain a lawyer to handle this for you, or you can fill out your own separation agreement using online resources or those provided by state court websites.
To be sure that all your bases are covered, your separation agreement should contain provisions for the division of property and liability for debts, address how child custody and visitation will be handled, set the amount of temporary child support or alimony to be paid, and any other details that need to be worked out.
Once all the necessary paperwork is filled out, the petition will need to be served on your husband, unless both of you are filing jointly. After your husband is served with the petition, he will need to respond within a certain period of time. If both parties agree to the provisions of the separation agreement, all that is needed is the notarized signatures of both spouses so that it can be presented to the court for approval.
If one spouse doesn't agree with the provisions, a counter-petition can be filed. At this stage, it is best to work out disagreements privately, or with the use of a mediator. If an agreement can't be reached, the matter will need to go before a judge to settle everything.
Once everything is settled, the parties need to sign the separation agreement so that it can be submitted to a judge for review and signing. The final document will then be filed with the county clerk. At this time, you should request official copies for both you and your spouse. It's important to note that in many states, it is possible to convert a legal into a divorce decree at a later time. Since there are time limits in some states, you should contact a lawyer to find out what the specifics are in your state.
Keep reading for more information on how to file for a legal separation and understanding what your rights are: