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Your Complete Guide to Legal Separation

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What is a legal separation?

A legal separation is similar to a divorce in that it separates all marital assets and debts and allows spouses to finalize a parenting plan, but the spouses remain legally married.

A divorce is the dissolution or ending of a marriage, while the separation process creates a total financial separation (and potentially physical separation) while your legal status remains ‘married.’

A legal separation can be converted into a divorce at a later date, making it advantageous for some married people.

Legal Separation FAQs

How long does it take to get a legal separation or divorce?

The mediation process can often be completed in one to two meetings — you set the pace.

“By completing your process through mediation,
you never have to set foot in a courtroom.”

The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation helps spouses reach agreements more efficiently and complete the entire process without going to court.

“In mediation, the entire divorce or separation process can be
completed within 2-4 months.”

Quick comparison

Legal SeparationDivorce
Marital StatusMarriedSingle
Possibility for ReconciliationYesNo
Can Spouses Remarry?NoYes
Can Spouses File Joint Tax Returns?NoNo
Can Dependent Spouses Keep Their Health Insurance?MaybeNo
Religious AcceptanceMore acceptableLess acceptable
Can Dependent Spouses Keep Retirement, Military, or Social Security Benefits?Maybe, if spouses meet certain requirements.In mediation, spouses decide.

In litigation, a judge decides.
Financial Relationship StatusBoth processes terminate the financial relationship between spouses.
TimelineIn mediation, either process can be completed in 2-4 months.

In litigation, a divorce or separation can take years.
Time to AdaptCan be an emotional stepping stone for spouses and their children to adapt and adjust to changing family dynamics.For spouses who are confident that there is no chance for reconciliation.

In Arizona, how is legal separation different from divorce?

In Arizona, when a separation is finalized, the spouses have:

  • ended their community property relationship,
  • financially separated, and
  • begun living apart.

If you have a covenant marriage in Arizona, there is very little difference between the process for filing a separation decree and the process for divorce. In almost every way, a legal separation looks like, sounds like, and feels like a divorce. However, at the end of the process, the spouses maintain the legal status of married.

Indeed, the process of filing for either is almost identical and can take about the same amount of time to complete.

The issues to be decided in legal separation and divorce agreements are the same: division of property (assets and debts), spousal support, and parenting time, previously referred to as child custody.

Both require the following legal documentation and process: PetitionAcceptance of Service, and Final Consent Decree, unless the spouses use the Summary Decree Process that does not require Acceptance of Service. The Aurit Center utilizes the Summary Decree Process to provide the lowest conflict and most efficient legal separation.

When beginning your legal separation process, it’s also important to consider that Arizona’s residency requirement is that at least one spouse has been an Arizona resident for at least the last 90 days.

Why would I choose a separation instead of a divorce?

Some common reasons spouses use legal separation in Arizona include:

  • Financial Considerations. Some spouses opt for a separation when one spouse needs to stay on the other’s health insurance policy. This can give the dependent spouse time to secure affordable insurance — and eventually, if they prefer, the separation can be converted into a divorce.
  • Religious Beliefs/Cultural Considerations. Spouses may have religious reasons for wanting to avoid divorce. Some religious or cultural beliefs are more accepting of legal separation compared to divorce because they appreciate that reconciliation is still possible.
  • Personal Reasons. A trial separation can provide a useful alternative to divorce when spouses believe there is a good possibility for reconciliation. For some spouses and their children, it can serve as an emotional stepping stone or transition period.

How are taxes affected by legal separation vs divorce?

The tax benefits granted to married couples no longer apply when they legally separate or divorce.

Even though legally separated spouses are still legally married, the federal government recognizes the separated spouses as divorced for tax purposes, so they cannot file joint income tax returns.

“To learn more about filing your taxes after separation or divorce, check out the IRS’s What Is My Filing Status? tool.

Your mediator can provide referrals to professional accounting services if you would like further assistance in making the best decision regarding your tax filings.

image of tax documents with a sticky note reminder

What happens to our community property relationship?

Community property refers to any property that the spouses acquired together during their marriage.

The separation process and the divorce process require property division to achieve physical and financial separation — meaning the spouses end their community property relationship.

The date of your community property relationship ending may be the date Acceptance of Service is filed, the date someone is served with a divorce Petition, the date the Summary Consent Petition and Response is filed, or another mutually agreed-upon date. Once your community property relationship ends, all assets, debts, and income from that date forward are each spouse’s sole and separate property and debts.

“Mediation gives separating and divorcing spouses the opportunity to develop mutually beneficial agreements, rather than letting a judge decide.

Can we stay on the same health insurance while legally separated?

Maybe. Many spouses choose separation over divorce to keep their health insurance coverage. Since legally separated spouses are still legally married, in many circumstances, health insurance benefits may remain in place during the separation period.

It is important to check with your insurance company to verify their policy regarding coverage for legally separated spouses.

In a divorce, spouses usually have separate insurance after the divorce is final. COBRA is a government program that allows families to continue their health insurance coverage, but it’s typically quite expensive and only lasts for a temporary period.

Can we separate to eliminate financial liability?

Yes. Legal separation divides all assets and debts, keeping future income and finances separate, as it would in a divorce. The division of marital property is the same in both a separation and a divorce. If you and your spouse want to remain together but need to protect one party from the other’s financial liability due to future business or personal debts, separating may be a beneficial option for you.

Legal separation can be financially advantageous because it may allow for continued eligibility for retirement, military, or social security benefits after meeting specific requirements.

It is important to speak with your individual benefit providers to thoroughly understand how legally separating or divorcing will impact you and your spouse’s eligibility.

How does legal separation impact children?

When parents legally separate or divorce, how they process their transition greatly affects how the children are impacted. Whether separating or divorcing, parents who use mediation help protect their children from the harmful conflict and fighting involved in litigation.

“Research tells us that a negative emotional impact is caused by to continued exposure to parental conflict, not the separation or divorce itself.

How do we tell our kids that we are separating?

When there is a reasonable chance for reconciliation, a trial separation may be explained to children as a time period when the parents need to live in separate places.

You can help your kids adjust to a trial separation by making sure they know that:

  • it’s a mutual decision made by both their parents,
  • it isn’t their fault,
  • both their parents support and respect one another as parents, and
  • both their parents love them with all their hearts.

Even in a situation where the parents do not reconcile, the children will have had some time to adjust and may be more emotionally ready for a divorce after a trial separation period.

image of an adult hand holding a child's hand

When reconciliation is unlikely, parents should be honest with their children so that the legal separation does not result in a false sense of hope that the parents may reunite. Unrealistic expectations can make a future conversion to divorce more difficult for children.

Whether you choose legal separation or divorce, you can prioritize your children’s health and well-being by completing your process in mediation. Trained professional family mediators are versed in family law, dispute resolution, and divorce-related financial issues.

“You can have a simple, affordable, efficient, fair and confidential process while protecting your children from the harm of litigation.”

image of a house with palm trees and cacti in the front yard

How to file for legal separation if you have minor children

When minor children are involved, it’s important to consult with an experienced mediator or attorney to ensure all the required forms are completed correctly. Here is how to file for a legal separation if you have minor children:

  1. Fill out the Family Department Sensitive Data/Cover Sheet.
  2. Fill out the Child Support Worksheet.
  3. Fill out the following forms — and make two copies of each in addition to the original:
    1. Summons
    2. Preliminary injunctions
    3. Petition for Legal Separation With Minor Children
    4. Affidavit of Minor Children
    5. Order and Notice for the Parent Information Program
    6. Notice regarding creditors
    7. Parenting plan
    8. Child support worksheet
  4. File your paperwork at the courthouse and pay the filing fee.
  5. Serve your spouse with the legal separation papers.
  6. File an Affidavit or Acceptance of Service after serving your spouse.

You can find all the forms listed above and other helpful child support and family law resources on the state of Arizona’s official judicial website for Legal Separation with Children.

“Whether you have children or not, mediation is the best way to navigate the legal separation process.

”Well-organized, supportive, compassionate, and effective. I’m so glad we went the mediation route. I was very satisfied with the Aurit Center.”

Other important factors to consider

Before you make a decision to legally separate or divorce, there are several factors to be aware of. In a legal separation:

  • neither spouse can marry another person;
  • the process takes the same amount of time as a divorce; and
  • there can be increased mental strain for spouses and children while deciding how to move forward.

Can I get married to someone else while I am legally separated?

No, as legally separated spouses, even having filed a Petition for legal separation, you remain legally married, making it impossible for either spouse to marry someone else. In contrast, divorced spouses revert to single status, and each person has the right to marry at any time following the dissolution of their marriage — or to remarry each other.

When going through a separation, the pain of the current situation can make it nearly impossible to be concerned about future marriages. However, it is not uncommon for spouses to feel differently after a period of healing. This time frame is different for everyone and spouses should review their options with their mediator in order to make an informed choice.

Can we move forward if we are undecided?

The decision to separate or divorce can be challenging and overwhelming. One spouse may completely resist the notion of divorce or separation. However, it’s important to understand that Arizona’s no-fault divorce means that a divorce will take place as long as one spouse wishes to proceed.

“There is no right or wrong; only what you believe is best for your circumstances.”

Spouses frequently move forward with mediation before they’ve made a final decision about whether to legally separate or divorce.

During mediation, you can change your mind at any time. Thus, if mediation begins as a separation, it can be changed to divorce before the final papers are submitted to the court. Likewise, mediation can begin as a divorce and change to a separation at any time before a decree is final.

“Regardless of how you choose to proceed, mediation can help you begin to communicate in a new way.”

The mediation process is the same in a separation or divorce. How you choose to move forward is an entirely personal decision. There is no right or wrong; only what you believe is best for your circumstances. Getting legal advice from a family law attorney who supports mediation is encouraged in either event. Discernment Counseling can also help you and your spouse decide how best to move forward.

In mediation, you and your spouse will be guided by your mediator to communicate in a new, solution-focused manner, which helps to keep conflict low during that process and into the future.

Choosing mediation, rather than each spouse hiring an aggressive law firm, will increase the chances of a successful and amicable separation. You can choose mediation and avoid escalating conflict and a battle in court.

Can we convert our legal separation into a divorce?

Yes, a legal separation agreement can be converted into a divorce at any time. In mediation, we prepare the court documents necessary to convert your separation to a divorce. This document is called a Stipulated Motion to Convert Legal Separation to Divorce.

In both mediation and litigation, the terms most often remain the same when converting a legal separation to a dissolution of marriage.

“A legal separation offers flexibility.”

How long can we remain legally separated?

In Arizona, spouses can remain legally separated for as long as they wish until the time of either spouse’s death. In the event that one spouse dies while the spouses are legally separated, the marital relationship ends without the surviving spouse going to family court, and no further legal process is necessary.

Can legal separation help with emotional readiness?

A legal separation can be a helpful stepping stone between marriage and divorce when spouses are not emotionally ready to end their marriage.

The separation process offers more flexibility. Should you reconcile, you can transition back to your former marital status. And if you choose to divorce, you can easily transition into one.

There are many unique emotional situations where separating may be preferable, such as:

  • spouses need time to adjust to the idea of divorce,
  • spouses find that they still love one another but no longer desire to live together;
  • spouses find that they no longer wish to be married but one spouse won’t be able to stay on the other’s insurance plan if they’re divorced

Mediation allows spouses to reach unique, personalized agreements in a non-judgmental, supportive environment.

“Spouses in mediation collaborate to reach mutually beneficial agreements that meet their needs, whether they decide to legally separate, divorce, or reconcile.”

The bottom line

Legal separation can provide flexibility to spouses who are uncertain about how to move forward.

It lets you move at your own pace, taking the time to adjust to changing family dynamics and living separately. Spouses have a chance to reconcile challenging issues. Down the road, if necessary, the separation can be converted into a divorce.

Your professional mediator can help you identify and resolve challenging issues. Some spouses choose to reconcile following their mediation process.

Even if reconciliation isn’t possible, mediation can lead to a healthier co-parenting relationship that is better for your children.

Personalized mediation services that meet your unique needs

In Arizona, spouses can complete their entire separation or divorce process in mediation, avoiding combative litigation and the adversarial court process. The mediation process is simple, affordable, and can be completed in as little as two months.

In mediation, for either legal separation or divorce, you will discuss and agree upon the same issues: division of assets and a parenting plan, including parenting time and legal decision-making authority.

“You can begin mediation at any time, even if you have already begun litigation.”

The Aurit Center is a leader in online mediation, where spouses reach agreements on all issues of legal separation or divorce. We can help you draft and finalize your property settlement agreement, consent decree, and, if applicable, your parenting plan.

Call 480-999-7399 to discuss your questions with a Mediation Coordinator.

parent and child walking at the beach

The Aurit Center’s respectful process prioritizes the well-being of children. We help you create agreements that allow you to continue to provide structure for your kids. We help you provide stability when your family needs it most.

“The Aurit Center’s respectful process prioritizes the well-being children.”

During your complimentary consultation, your potential mediator will explain the advantages and disadvantages of legal separation and help you decide how best to move forward. The free consultation is informational and does not begin any process.

“We are the only Arizona divorce mediation firm to offer a 0%, 12-month payment plan.”

Call us today at 480-999-7399 to schedule your free consultation, or reach out through our online submission form.

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We will contact you within 24 hours to schedule a convenient consultation time. Both spouses must be present for your initial consultation. We look forward to meeting with you.

(480) 999-7399 | info@auritmediation.com
Business Hours: 8:30a–5:00p M-F

Our Process

Four steps to a
healthy legal separation

pay over time with split it

1 Free Online Consultation

Your mediator will explain our simple process and answer all your questions.

2 We help you reach your best agreements

With your mediator guiding the way, you remain in control of your terms, not the judge. As you negotiate, your mediator will identify the issues, inform you of what is provided under Arizona law, and help you reach your best possible agreement.

3 We prepare your documents

We draft your agreements for your review and approval. If you would like to get additional independent legal advice before you sign, we have options available for you.

4 We file for you and you never go to court.

We file your petition; no one is ever “served,” and you avoid the stress and extended time of a court battle. Your divorce or legal separation is finalized after we submit your consent decree to the court. You never go to court.

Confidential

Arizona law protects mediation confidentiality. Your process will never become part of the public record.

No Court

When you enter into mediation at The Aurit Center, you avoid stressful court hearings and trials.

Payment Plans Available

0% - 12 Month Payment Plans with no credit check or application.

Healthy divorce is a choice

Our free one-hour consultation comes with no obligation.
We are here to discuss your needs, answer your questions and ensure that our services are right for you.

Schedule your free consultation

(480) 999-7399 | info@auritmediation.com

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