Summary in Divorce

The word separation in the context of divorce means that a husband and wife no longer live together, but the term is used with specific applications. In general, a married couple separate in one of three ways: on a trial basis, where they live apart until they decide what to do; permanently, where they live apart with intent of a divorce; and legally, which is similar to a divorce.

In a trial separation, a couple lives apart trying to decide whether to reconcile or divorce. Very often couples who cannot get along decide to live apart for a time to clear the air. These separations are often "informal" in that there is no written separation agreement. As a rule, a couple separated on a trial basis enjoy the same legal rights as married people living together. Money and property are still considered jointly owned.

If a couple decides that the marriage is over, the trial separation becomes a permanent separation, that is, a breach with a firm date of separation and a period of time that is preliminary to a divorce. Almost all divorcing couples at some point agree that the marriage will end and that they intend to go their separate ways, legally and forever, and when this happens, the couple separate permanently. At this point, the spouses have abandoned all hope of reconciliation; they intend to divorce. The date of separation -- DOS -- is important in the calculation and determination of the marital estate subject to distribution.

The legal rights of the spouse who separate in these ways are different. Generally, for example, couples who separate permanently may seek temporary support pending a divorce, and the property and income and debts and liabilities incurred belong solely to the spouse who acquired them. By comparison, a person who is legally separated is married in name only.

Couples who separate permanently are still legally married. However, as long as they are separated, they remain married until they are legally and finally divorced.

A permanent separation is sometimes placed ahead of a trial separation and below a legal separation. Each degree of separation, however, brings with it different legal parameters into play, and these may vary from one jurisdiction to another.

The act of separating, which is accompanied by announcements to family and friends that a divorce is in the offing, places a couple in a penumbra: the de facto end of marriage that still exists de jure. All manner of issues and problems can arise during this period, which, depending on the actions of the spouses, lasts weeks, months and even years in some cases.

Some jurisdictions permit divorcing couples to physically live with each other during the divorce. However, all require a DOS -- the date of separation, which is important in the calculation and determination of the marital estate subject to distribution. Jurisdictions define the DOS in different ways, but in any case, at some point a definite and permanent separation date must be established.

Some states permit a couple to legally separate, and some require a divorce.

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