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Filing for legal separation vs. divorce (part 2)

| Dec 11, 2013 | Legal Separation |

The previous post discussed filing for legal separation or for divorce has similar legal effect. Both actions divide debt and property, award child support or spousal maintenance (alimony) and establish a parenting plan (determination of a residential schedule or legal custody).

The major dissimilarity between the two is finalization. In Washington, after the divorce petition and summons has been filed and served on the other party, the court requires a 90 day “cooling off” period before the divorce can be finalized via entry of a decree of dissolution. Technically a petition for legal separation and its accompanying decree can be entered at the same time since there is no waiting period to enter a decree of legal separation. But you have to wait 6 months from when the decree of legal separation is entered before it can be converted to a decree of dissolution.

The reason why I suggest filing for divorce instead of being legally separated is that the divorce can be finalized in 90 days as opposed to waiting 6 months before turning your legal separation decree into a divorce decree. If there is hesitancy about what to file because you are unsure if your marriage is truly over, filing for divorce is not necessarily the end of the marital relationship.

If you file for divorce and you and your spouse reconcile or decide to put the brakes on the divorce, there are options. An agreed order of dismissal can be entered, which dismisses the divorce action. If reconciliation is unsuccessful, you start over from square one…refiling the petition for dissolution, paying the filing fee and reestablishing temporary orders (parenting plan, child support or spousal maintenance). Instead of dismissing the divorce petition, another option is entering an agreed order suspending any temporary orders entered in the divorce. Essentially putting the divorce on hold until the parties decide whether reconciliation is successful or not. If reconciliation is unsuccessful, instead of a “do-over” the parties can agree to reinstate their temporary orders and proceed with finalizing the divorce.

This post concludes the two part series on filing for legal separation versus filing for divorce. 

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