When a married couple decides they can no longer live together, the obvious conclusion is to seek a divorce. However, in certain circumstances, a divorce may not be practical, possible, or even desirable. And that’s where a legal separation comes in.
Maybe your religion forbids it, or you want to avoid the consequences of being labeled as divorced. Perhaps for practical or financial reasons, you need a speedy separation from your spouse. Are you the beneficiary of a will or inheritance that stipulates that you have to be married? Or it may just be that there’s a chance of a reconciliation between you and your spouse, and a divorce is just too final.
Whatever your reasons, a legal separation is a comparatively quick, simple, and practical solution to such issues. Unless you live in Texas, that is.
The bad news is that legal separation isn’t recognized in Texas. However, there's a range of alternatives for you to consider. If you’re from Texas and are separating or divorcing, read on for a comprehensive review of your options.
Unfortunately for Lone Star State residents, Texas is one of just six US states that doesn’t recognize legal separation. That’s a shame because legal separations have helped many couples and families in other states across America. Legal separations tend to be easier on everyone concerned; plus, they’re much simpler to reverse if you and your partner do decide to get back together.
It might seem obvious to say it, but the most significant difference between divorce and legal separation is that you're still married with the latter. You and your spouse are free to live separate lives, but you remain married from a legal, social, and financial perspective. That may be what you want - but it does mean that if you’re going to remarry, you’ll need to change your legal separation into a divorce.
There are all sorts of circumstances where legal separation is preferable or more appropriate than a divorce. In addition to the reasons already outlined above, you may simply want a trial separation. Alternatively, some couples use legal separation as the first step towards a complete divorce, for example, while they’re waiting for divorce residency requirements to be met. Finally, some couples stay married to hold on to certain marital benefits, like healthcare for the whole family.
It’s important to remember that there are many similarities between a divorce and legal separation too. There’s also lots of paperwork involved with each solution. You and your partner will need to reach a mutual agreement in key areas like the division of community property (shared assets and debts), spousal/child maintenance, and child custody.
But given Texas residents can’t have a legal separation, what alternatives do they have?
In the absence of legal separation, some couples may decide to proceed straight to divorce in Texas. But before doing so, it’s worth exploring whether some of the other options might suit you better:
Divorce cases can take a long time, so you may be able to use temporary orders and injunctions as a short-term solution for pressing matters. They may be appropriate in areas like child custody, visitation rights, and support. Alternatively, they may relate to temporary spousal maintenance payments, use of certain property, or interim payments of legal fees.
Still, temporary orders and injunctions are just that - temporary - so they’re not a long-term solution.
An Agreement Incident To Divorce (AID) isn’t so much an alternative to divorce as it is an add-on. You can use an AID for a variety of reasons: to keep certain information confidential, to make flexible agreements (if you win your long-running libel case, you’re entitled to 25%, for example), and to set conditions that are beyond the scope of the court (you agree to pay child support until the children reach the age of 30).
An AID is generally referenced in your final divorce decree, meaning it’s legally part of your final settlement, as well as being a legal document in its own right.
A collaborative divorce might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it can be extremely beneficial to settle in a friendly, amicable, and co-operative way. With this form of divorce, the couple, and their representatives, proactively communicate and work together to negotiate an equitable solution.
One of the most significant advantages is that it avoids the stress, bitterness, and bad feelings associated with a court case. Where children are involved, it’s a major plus for them if you can maintain a constructive relationship with your ex.
There are many significant differences between a contested and uncontested divorce regarding workload, expense, stress, influence, and court time. Generally, you can save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and money by choosing an uncontested divorce.
With an uncontested divorce, couples reach an agreement on all the key areas (property division, maintenance, and custody) without the need to go to court. Where they can’t agree, the divorce becomes contested. It must then proceed to court, where the judge, not the couple, has control over the final verdict.
In some circumstances, using a mediation service might be a suitable alternative to a divorce lawyer. Equally, you may decide that because a divorce attorney has extensive legal knowledge and a lengthy track record working on separations, they’re an excellent fit as a mediator.
Even if you decide not to use a lawyer for mediation, it’s still a good idea to get any final agreement checked by an attorney to ensure it’s legal and watertight.
When it comes to the essential areas in your life - your health, finances, or buying a house - it always pays to consult with an expert. The same is true when you’re facing a life-changing event, like a divorce.
If you want to explore all of the available divorce alternatives, a family attorney is ideally placed to guide, support, and advise you. Divorce is a highly complex area of the law, especially when children are involved, and a lawyer can ensure you choose the option that’s exactly right for you and your family.
Until Texas enacts legal separation, divorcing couples in the Lone Star State must look for other solutions. You may be surprised by the number of different options there are, and an experienced family lawyer is there to advise you on all of them.