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How to File for Legal Separation in Florida
It is common for a spouse to move out of the marital home when a marriage breaks down. The parties may live apart for several months or even years before one of the spouses begins the legal process to dissolve the marriage. However, living apart and a legal separation are not the same thing.
Some states recognize legal separation. A spouse may file a court proceeding to obtain an order declaring that the parties are legally separated. The parties are still married, but the court issues an order related to matters such as custody, child support, spousal support, and property division.
Florida does not recognize legal separation. You cannot petition the court for a legal separation. You may live apart, but you are considered married until you petition for and obtain a dissolution of marriage through the Florida courts.
Legal Separation vs. Temporary Relief
It can be easy to confuse legal separation with temporary relief in a divorce matter. When a spouse files for divorce, the spouse may request that the court order temporary relief for a variety of issues. For example, a spouse might need the court to resolve issues related to custody, support, and living arrangements on a temporary basis.
Temporary relief is an interim solution. It is not an order for legal separation. The relief is granted while the divorce is in process.
Problems Can Arise When a Couple Chooses to Live Separately While Married
The longer you live separate from your spouse, the more complicated your divorce proceedings may become when you file for dissolution of marriage.
For example, if a woman becomes pregnant while living separate from her husband, the husband is still considered the child’s legal father. The mother, father, or the alleged father would need to file a paternity action to determine which man has parental rights.
Spouses might move to another state while they are living separate and apart. It could make obtaining a divorce much more complicated.
Issues may arise regarding debts and marital assets when spouses live apart for years before petitioning for a divorce. Assets obtained after a separation could be considered marital assets and subject to property division during the divorce.
Spouses who live separate and apart might date other people while they are still married. Florida is a no-fault divorce state, so adultery is generally not considered when parties petition for a dissolution of marriage. However, dating while you are separated could have a negative impact on your divorce, in some cases.
If spouses have a legally binding marital agreement, the terms of the agreement could come into play even though they live separately. Depending on the agreement’s terms, it could make the divorce process easier or more complicated if the spouses have lived apart for a substantial period.
Can I Receive Child Support or Spousal Support Without Filing for a Divorce?
There are a few cases in which a spouse may petition the court for domestic support payments without filing for a divorce. A spouse may petition the court for child support or spousal support if the spouse needs the support and the other spouse has the ability to pay the support. The court makes a decision based on what it believes is just and proper given the case’s circumstances and facts.
Is There a Benefit To Living Separately Before a Divorce?
In situations related to domestic violence, a spouse may need to leave the marital home or petition the court to have the abusive spouse leave the marital home. It is generally safer for the abused spouse to live separately while seeking a divorce.
When spouses argue and fight, it can be beneficial for the spouses to live separately while deciding if their marriage can be saved or if they want a divorce. It can also benefit children because they are not subjected to the tension and arguments between their parents. However, each case is different, and you must decide what is best for you and your child.
If you are unsure whether living separately might have adverse consequences for a divorce action, you might want to consult with a divorce attorney before moving out of the marital home.
An attorney explains your legal rights and the pros and cons of moving out of the marital home before initiating divorce proceedings. Depending on your situation, an attorney might be able to file a petition with the court to grant temporary relief so that you can remain in the home while the divorce is in process.
In most cases, you can benefit from consulting with a divorce lawyer as soon as possible when you decide to leave your spouse or seek a divorce. Having information about divorce laws and your options can help you avoid mistakes that could work against your best interests.