Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas all allow for legal separation or separation maintenance. Legal separation means that you are living apart from your spouse, but are still married. Couples may choose legal separation for a variety of reasons, such as religious beliefs, to keep the family together for the sake of the children, or to preserve eligibility for insurance. In most cases, legal separation is a temporary solution that can be used while a couple decides if they wish to proceed with a divorce or attempt to reconcile.
A legal separation will address the same issues as a dissolution of marriage. The court will decide issues of property division, child custody, child visitation, child support, and spousal maintenance. But when the judgment is entered, you will still be married to your spouse.
In most cases, legal separation is a temporary solution that will affect your financial responsibilities until your divorce is final. The court will have made decisions about property division, maintenance payments (alimony), and child custody and support. Parties to a legal separation cannot sell assets, incur major debts, or get remarried. A legal separation can be easily converted to a divorce.
Some couples who are considering a divorce will use a legal separation as a less expensive option. A legal separation can also give a divorcing couple time to sort out their differences and decide if they truly wish to seek a divorce.
This “cooling off” period can be crucial. For some, a legal separation allows a couple to re-evaluate a divorce and decide to reconcile. Others use the time to take a more reasonable approach to their divorce, or to find a job and get back on their feet financially before proceeding with a divorce.
Missouri and Kansas provide for a waiting period after which a party can seek to have a legal separation converted to a divorce decree. Missouri has a 90-day waiting period, while there is a 60-day waiting period in Kansas. Once the waiting period is over, if you and your spouse decide you do want to get a divorce, the judge can convert a legal separation agreement into a divorce agreement. If you and your spouse reconcile, the judgment can be set aside and you will remain married. [Note: they are still “married” even after the judgment for the legal separation is entered; however, “[o]n motion of both parties, the court shall set aside a judgment of legal separation.” Mo.Rev.Stat. § 452.360.4.]
In Illinois, the remedies available in a legal separation are more limited. A legal separation agreement can address support and maintenance payments for each spouse while they live apart. A legal separation agreement can also address temporary child support, a restraining order, and, if requested by both parties, a property settlement agreement.
Legal separation can be a useful, albeit often temporary, solution for a couple who is considering a divorce. But because a legal separation will address the same legal issues as a divorce, it is wise to work with an experienced divorce attorney who will protect your rights and your future if you ultimately decide to get a divorce.
At Semita Legalis, we provide helpful legal counsel, committed advocacy, and fair rates as we help our clients through legal separation. We invite you to learn more about attorney David Breon, and to contact Semita Legalis today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.