Ending a marriage, or separating from one’s spouse, is never easy. In addition to the personal and emotional challenges involved, you will have to make a number of very important legal decisions.
The first choice you face may be which action to file. You have two options under Wisconsin law: divorce and legal separation. To determine which option is right for your unique situation, you need to understand the differences between the two legal actions.
In many ways, divorce and legal separation are similar. Both actions require:
- A 120-day waiting period before a judgment can be granted
- Property and debt division, including alimony, which is known as maintenance in Wisconsin, when appropriate. In a legal separation, as in a divorce, the division of assets is considered final. You will not accrue marital property or debt while legally separated, and you cannot file your taxes as a married couple.
- Decisions regarding the custody, placement and support of children, if applicable
The main, and critical, difference between divorce and legal separation is that only divorce legally ends a marriage. A legal separation severs your financial relationship with your spouse, but you remain legally married and thus cannot marry anyone else.
A legal separation does offer a bit of flexibility because you or your spouse may convert the separation into a divorce as soon as one year has passed from the date the legal separation was granted. It is possible to do this sooner if both spouses agree. On the contrary, if after a period of separation you and your spouse would like to resume married life, you may choose to dismiss the judgment of legal separation.
People choose legal separation instead of divorce for a variety of reasons. In some cases, couples want to sever their financial ties, but they believe there is a chance of reconciliation in the future. For others, legal separation is a way to terminate the emotional and financial partnerships of marriage without violating any religious beliefs pertaining to divorce. Additionally, in some cases, people file for legal separation instead of divorce to maintain their health insurance coverage. However, it is important to note that not all insurance providers allow legally separated spouses to continue coverage.
It is necessary, in both a divorce and a legal separation, to fully consider how all of the issues will affect your wellbeing, your finances and your children. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process and ensure you understand your rights and options every step of the way.