Last Updated on March 20, 2023 by Turner Thornton
From time to time, our attorneys get calls from couples who want to “legally separate” but not divorce. They usually have a valid reason for wanting this type of dissolution of their marriage, but in Texas, this is not an option. The Lone Star state does not recognize legal separation. Here, you are either divorced or you are married – at least in the eyes of the law.
In this article, our Fort Worth divorce lawyers explain the concept of legal separation, the reasons why it’s appealing to some couples, and why having a separation agreement drawn up could be a good idea in lieu of a divorce.
What is Legal Separation?
Legal separation is a process by which a married couple formally separates but does not end their marriage. It is different from a divorce because the couple remains legally married but lives apart without marital obligations. Legal separation is recognized in some states, but Texas is not one of them.
Why Do Couples Want a Legal Separation Rather than Divorce?
While every couple’s situation is unique, there are several reasons why Texas couples may choose to separate rather than divorce. Here are five possible reasons:
- Trial Separation: Sometimes couples want to take time apart to decide if they want to stay together or throw in the towel. A legal separation can provide a trial period during which the couple can live apart, work on their issues, and decide if they’re better off together or apart.
- Religious or Personal Beliefs: Many couples don’t believe in divorce for religious, cultural, or personal reasons. A legal separation is a way to live apart while still remaining married and, therefore, not sacrificing their personal, religious, or moral beliefs.
- Financial Reasons: Some couples decide to separate, rather than divorce, for financial protection. For example, couples who are legally separated can still file joint tax returns, which can result in lower taxes. Staying married also allows health insurance benefits to continue.
- Child Support: A couple may choose to separate, but stay married, to avoid child support and child custody implications. They may think it’s easier to have an informal agreement than court orders.
- Immigration Issues: Many couples choose to stay married but live separately due to immigration consequences. If one spouse is undocumented, they could be deported upon divorce.
Can You Separate Informally in Texas?
Yes, even though Texas doesn’t recognize legal separation, there is nothing that prohibits married couples from living apart. If a couple wants to live separate lives and still be married on paper, that is certainly their prerogative. We would highly recommend consulting with an experienced family law attorney, however, before entering into this type of relationship.
How long Can You Be Separated in Texas?
In Texas, a couple can be separated indefinitely. We’ve heard of couples who have been living apart for 5, 10 or even 15 years. However, the marriage is not officially over until the divorce is finalized or a spouse dies.
What are the Alternatives to Legal Separation in Texas?
Although you cannot get a legal separation in Texas, there are options that provide a similar outcome, including separation agreements, temporary orders, protective orders, and Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR).
An experienced Fort Worth divorce attorney at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group will listen to your unique situation to determine which options are right for you in order to provide you with legal protections while you are separated or before your divorce is finalized.
What is a Separation Agreement?
Although Texas does not recognize “legal separation,” you can still have a separation agreement drawn up if you choose to live separate lives. The agreement is a contract between spouses that memorializes the terms of the separation, including child custody, visitation, support, and property division.
The agreement should be signed by both parties and agreed on by a judge. It is important to have any agreements drafted by an experienced family law attorney. Family issues are complex and shouldn’t be handled without help from a professional.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Separation?
For some couples, there are benefits to separation, including living separately and independently while still being legally married, protecting financial interests, and potentially reconciling. However, it can also have drawbacks, such as the emotional toll of living separately, limited legal protections, and the inability to marry someone else.
If you and your spouse are considering separating, it’s important to speak to an experienced family law attorney. They can explain all of your options under Texas law and help guide you through this process so that unnecessary mistakes or mishaps don’t come back to hurt you down the road.
Don’t Want to Live With Your Spouse? We Can Help.
Even though Texas doesn’t recognize legal separations, our family law attorneys can help you find a solution to help you accomplish your needs while protecting your rights. Separating can be a complex and emotional process, but you are not alone.
Our team can help you navigate unchartered territory and provide you with the tools and information necessary to make informed decisions so that you can move forward with your life. Our goal is to get you through this difficult time with as little stress and legal complications as possible. Contact Varghese Summersett Family Law Group today at 817-900-3220 to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Fort Worth and the surrounding areas.