Legal Separation in Vermont
As a divorce lawyer here in Vermont, almost everyone I talk to has questions about legal separation, what it is and how it’s different from divorce. This is a confusing issue because “separation” is also a reason you can get a divorce. Let’s take a look at what exactly it is and why it can be a good option for a couple.
What Is a Legal Separation?
A legal separation is very much like a divorce. You need to go through the same process as a divorce to get legally separated. It is an order from the family court that separates your finances, awards spousal maintenance, and may deal with custody and child support issues. The major difference is that you’re not free to marry someone else because you’re technically still married.
Another interesting thing about a legal separation is that it can be temporary. You can get a temporary separation order from the Vermont judge so that you will go back to being married at some point in the future. I have never actually seen this done, but here’s the law:
“A legal separation forever or for a limited time may be granted for any of the causes for which an absolute divorce may be granted.” - 15 V.S.A. § 555
Why might someone want a legal separation instead of a divorce?
Sometimes people have ethical or religious reasons why they do not wish to get divorced, but they still need the court’s help arranging to live separate lives while staying married. For example, a legal separation would limit one party’s exposure to increased spousal maintenance obligation from being married for a longer time period.
Another reason to get a separation order would be to stay on a spouses’ health insurance plan. Most employment-based health insurance plans require a covered person to be a spouse or child. If you are separated, you could still be a spouse for health insurance reasons, while getting divorced would negate that option.
Legal Separation versus “Living Separate and Apart”
Many people are initially confused by the terms “legal separation” and “living separate and apart.” These are indeed different things. “Living separate and apart” is a prerequisite for getting a no-fault divorce in Vermont. You can’t get a final divorce order until you have lived “separate and apart” for six months.
“Living separate and apart” means that both of you can tell a judge that you haven’t been living as a married couple. Sometimes you’ve been living under the same roof - and that’s fine. Many people have to live in the same house while getting divorced. Technically, it means you aren’t sleeping together - but judges aren’t going to ask you any specific questions about this as long as you say you’ve been “separate and apart.”
Legal separation, on the other hand, is a legal status where you have an order from the court that does all of the things that a divorce does, separating your children, finances, and debts just as if you were divorced - you just can’t marry anyone else.
Legal separation isn’t for most people, but for those who have moral or religious reasons not to be divorced, it can be a good option. It separates your lives, both by dividing your financial resources and making orders for your children, but you are still technically married.
Considering legal separation?
Thankfully, it’s a pretty straightforward process and I’m happy to help.