When a marriage does not seem to be working out, many people conclude that the only option for them is a divorce. And while divorce may be the ultimate outcome, it is not necessarily the only possible outcome, and it may not even be the most appropriate outcome for some couples. If you are not sure that you are ready to take the final step of filing for divorce, you may wish to consider a legal separation. For more guidance on this option, contact Bergen County divorce lawyer Howard B. Leopold at Leopold Law, LLC. For over two decades, he has assisted many Northern New Jersey clients with a variety of family law matters, protecting their interests and making sure that they understand their rights.Seeking a Legal Separation
A legal separation may be a first step toward obtaining a divorce, a “time out” period during which both parties may reevaluate their relationship and family life to decide whether to proceed with a divorce or to try a reconciliation, or a permanent arrangement, particularly if divorce is an inappropriate option for moral, religious, or other reasons. A legal separation is a formal process, not just a matter of one spouse moving out of the home.
To establish a legal separation, the spouses must draft a written agreement between them that handles all of the practical aspects of their lives: the division of their property, potentially spousal and child support, and, if applicable, a child custody plan. As with any contract, most couples should hire an experienced attorney to review and draft the agreement to make sure that all matters are adequately addressed and that it does not present potential problems. Once the agreement is written, signed, and notarized, it becomes an enforceable contract between the parties. They do not need to go to court because the agreement is a private arrangement.
For couples that anticipate getting a divorce, a legal separation may establish the grounds for a no-fault divorce. Moreover, it essentially “locks” the marital assets in place by contract, and it provides the means and conditions under which those assets may be controlled and disposed. For example, the agreement will define how any property may be sold, and it may assign responsibility for mortgage and insurance payments, automobile payments and insurance, taxes, medical insurance, debt payments, and more. Although a legal separation will also set terms for spousal support, child custody, and child support during the period of separation, it should be remembered that the terms of the separation agreement do not necessarily establish what those terms may be in a subsequent divorce.
For spouses who do not want a divorce but who choose to live separately, a legal separation may be a more palatable option than an annulment or a “bed and board” divorce. An annulment does not dissolve a marriage. Instead, it is a declaration that a marriage was null and void from its initiation for certain reasons, such as fraud, bigamy, incapacity, or impotence. An annulment may be granted by certain religious bodies as well as by the state, although a state’s granting of a legal annulment may not necessarily be regarded by a particular church as valid.
In contrast, a “bed and board” divorce is a “limited” divorce that requires court intervention. The spouses stop living together as husband and wife, and their decree addresses many of the matters addressed in a normal divorce, such as the division of assets. However, the couple remains legally “married” with respect to certain things, such as medical insurance, and neither party is free to marry someone else. Once this type of divorce is granted, the spouses are financially independent. Neither may make a claim on the property of the other spouse or on their estate. Couples that choose this option may readily obtain a full divorce at a later time.Contact a Bergen County Lawyer to Discuss a Divorce
If you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage and would like to find out more about legal separation or any other options that you may have, contact Bergen County divorce attorney Howard B. Leopold. He has extensive experience advising and assisting clients in all aspects of family law, including legal separation. Call (201) 345-5907 or contact us online for a free appointment to talk to an experienced family law attorney. Howard B. Leopold represents people throughout Bergen, Essex, Passaic, and Hudson Counties, including in Hackensack, Englewood, Bergenfield, Cliffside Park, Dumont, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Fair Lawn, Fairview, Fort Lee, Franklin Lakes, Garfield, Glen Rock, Hasbrouck Heights, Hillsdale, Little Ferry, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, New Milford, North Arlington, Oakland, Palisades Park, Paramus, Ramsey, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park, Ridgewood, River Edge, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Teaneck, Tenafly, Wallington, Westwood, Wyckoff, Jersey City, Paterson, and Newark.