legal separation

Legal Separation in Washington State

Washington state legal separation is a process alternative to divorce when spouses don’t want to continue living together but, for some reason, prefer not to terminate their marriage. One of the reasons why people choose separation in Washington state is the religion. Divorce may not be approved in some cultures, and legal separation permits couples to stay married and not betray their religious beliefs.  

Another motive is if the decision to divorce is not final, and the couple doesn’t reject the possibility of reconciliation. If such a situation occurs, the spouses are not required to remarry. They just need to ask the court to terminate the Decree of Legal Separation.

Does Washington Allow Legal Separation?

Legal separation is allowed by law in Washington State. It is similar to the divorce process, with the difference that the spouses officially remain married. All the other procedures, like dividing property and assets and establishing a parenting plan, child custody, and spousal support, are the same as during the divorce.

Speaking about the financial side of legal separation, many people wonder: “Does legal separation protect me financially?”. The answer is yes. Washington is a community property state. Therefore, during the process of legal separation, the judge will analyze the financial situation of the spouses and equally divide the joint property and assets. If one of the spouses has a low income or wasn’t working at the time of marriage, spousal support may be provided.

In case one of the spouses is on the insurance plan of the other spouse, they will continue to receive all the premiums as a family member. If one of the spouses gets into debt after legal separation, it won’t be considered a joint debt.

What is the Process for a Legal Separation?

The legal marriage separation process in Washington consists of the following steps:

  1. Filling out all the forms relevant to your specific case. Couples with minor children must file additional forms, like Parenting Plan and Child Support Order.
  2. Filing the completed paperwork with the court clerk and paying the filing fees. A person who cannot afford the court fees may apply for a waiver.
  3. Serving the other spouse with copies of original documents. It can be done with the help of a sheriff or the process server.
  4. Filing the Answer to the original petition by the other spouse within a 20-day period.
  5. Preparing and signing a separation agreement in Washington state. In this document, the spouses determine the conditions of their separation, including financial and child-related issues. The separation contract in Washington stategives the spouses more control over decisions regarding their rights and responsibilities and prevents misunderstandings after the separation is granted by the court.
  6. Attending parenting seminars by couples with children under 18 years old.
  7. Contacting the clerk’s office to check the date of the final hearing and attending it. Unlike in the divorce process, there is no mandatory 90-day waiting period.
  8. Once the judge signs all the final forms, they should be filed with the clerk’s office.

It is important to remember that if the spouses decide to get back together, the separation contract does not end automatically. The spouses have to ask the court to terminate it. 

legal separation in Washington state

Disadvantages of Legal Separation in Washington State

People should be aware of the disadvantages of legal separation while choosing legal separation in Washington State vs divorce.

The main drawback is that spouses cannot marry other people because their marriage is not terminated officially. It can be an obstacle to building new relationships in the future.

Another disadvantage of being legally separated vs divorced is that spouses will have to pay additional fees if they decide to turn the legal separation into a divorce after some time.

It is also necessary to understand the difference between legal separation and informal separation definition, especially if the spouses consider reconciliation of the marriage. It is more complicated in the case of legal separation as they need to file a Motion to Vacate the Decree of Legal Separation and wait for the court approval. In case of informal separation, spouses can simply get back to living together.