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Woods & Brangwin, PLLC

632 Valley Mall Parkway
East Wenatchee, Washington 98802

Ph. (509) 663-3915
Fx. (509) 663-6064

Should You File for Divorce or Legal Separation?
Written by Beth Bratton
Thursday, 23 June 2011 15:36
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The question you want to ask yourself is if you want your marriage completely dissolved after 90 days or if you want to remain married but have everything legally divided between the parties.  The first thing you must do in either situation is file a summons and petition, serve the other party, and wait 90 days.  The big difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that after you file a summons and petition with the court, you have a wait time before final documents can be entered with the court.  In a divorce, you will have to wait 90 days and then you can enter final orders on asset and debt distribution, child support, parenting plans, etc.   After 90 days in a divorce proceeding, you can legally dissolve your marriage and be divorced.



A legal separation is similar to a divorce and you must still wait the 90 days to enter the final legal separation documents.  However, the one thing most people do not realize is that if you want to dissolve your marriage and be divorced, you will have to wait an additional 6 months from the day your final legal separation orders were entered with the court to convert your legal separation to a dissolution of marriage and be divorced.  After the 6 month wait period, either party can petition to have the legal separation converted to a dissolution of marriage.


I have had this issue come up quite a few times where individuals file for legal separation and later find out that is not really what they wanted to do because of the 6 month wait period once final orders were entered.  So, the thing you should be aware of is that unlike a divorce, the legal separation does not put an end to the marriage.  During a legal separation, you will have a court order that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse while you are living apart.  You will remain legally married while choosing to live separate lives.  There are several issues that can be addressed in a separation agreement such as division of assets and debts, child custody and child support, visitation schedules and spousal support.


The same issues addressed during the divorce process are also addressed in a legal separation agreement.  A legal separation can protect your interests until the decision is made to file for divorce.  The separation agreement also sets a precedent for the divorce that may follow.  If you divorce after a legal separation and your case goes to court, a judge may assume that since you were satisfied with the legal separation agreement, the agreement should carry over to the divorce agreement.  For that reason, it is important that you come to a separation agreement you can live with long term.


Although a legal separation and a divorce have many things in common there are a couple of advantages to obtaining a legal separation rather than a divorce.  One of the main reasons I have seen individuals decide to legally separate rather than remain married is so that one spouse can retain medical benefits, dental benefits, or other health care benefits.   In cases where one spouse has severe medical conditions and would not likely be covered somewhere else, a spouse may chose to legally separate to provide medical care to the other spouse.  Another advantage it may have is it allows individuals to go their separate ways and truly decide if divorce is the avenue they both want to pursue.



Beth Bratton is an associate in the Wenatchee law firm of Woods & Brangwin, PLLC and concentrates on family law, personal injury, criminal defense, and workers’ compensation claims.  She is rated “superb” by Avvo, an attorney rating firm.


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