Before ending a marriage in Indiana, couples may want to look at the option of legal separation. Divorce and legal separation are two distinct legal alternatives for spouses in Indiana who want to end their marriages. The two procedures accomplish two different and separate goals, but you will need a divorce law firm to help with either. A divorce legally dissolves a marriage. A legal separation lets spouses live separately while deciding to work on the marriage or to dissolve it. Couples who legally separate remain married, but couples who divorce do not, and they are for all intents and purposes “single” once again.

In the state of Indiana, divorce and legal separation have important similarities, but they also have important differences. While a legal separation is not a legal divorce, for many married couples in Indiana, it is an important practical alternative. Indiana law prohibits a legal separation from lasting for more than a year, although a legally separated spouse does not have to wait a for a year to file a divorce petition.

After a year, a legally separated couple must either file for a divorce or declare that they will remain married. The courts in Indiana will sign off on a legal separation if a judge determines that the couple cannot currently live together but that eventually they may be able to reconcile. And before any divorce in Indiana can be finalized, a judge must determine that the marriage has suffered an “irretrievable” breakdown.

WHAT CAN A LEGAL SEPARATION ACHIEVE?

Legal separation gives a married couple the opportunity to “cool off” before either partner makes a final decision to divorce. No-fault divorce is the law in this state, so a spouse does not have to prove that the other spouse did anything wrong in order to be granted a divorce. A legal separation is not required prior to an Indiana divorce, although a legal separation may provide the divorce court with the evidence it needs of a marriage’s “irretrievable breakdown.”

During a legal separation, a judge may issue temporary orders for child support and custody, spousal support (or “alimony”), and counseling. Also in a legal separation, one spouse can still be a beneficiary of the other’s life insurance. A legally separated spouse may or may not be able to benefit from the other spouse’s health insurance, so before filing for separation, check your health plan; some plans cover legally separated spouses and others do not. After a divorce, however, the parties go their separate ways. For example, a spouse cannot be held accountable for the other spouse’s personal debts after a divorce is finalized.

WHAT IF YOUR FAITH FORBIDS DIVORCE?

In the state of Indiana, a legally separated couple is still a legally married couple. Some couples may choose legal separation instead of divorce in order to satisfy a religious belief. When a faith community forbids divorce, legal separation allows a couple to maintain their religious beliefs while nevertheless, in effect, ending the relationship. Others treat legal separation as the equivalent of a trial divorce – to try living apart to “see how it goes” before choosing to end the marriage permanently.

When the marriage partners agree that a divorce is in fact the goal of their legal separation, it’s the right time to start the daunting task of evaluating and dividing marital property and assets. These issues should be resolved as early as possible, and especially if substantial assets and a number of properties are involved. A legal separation agreement, correctly drafted, settles any spousal support or child support disputes prior to a divorce; resolves tax issues, debts, and other financial matters; and addresses access to credit cards, bank accounts, lines of credit, and equities.

While a legal separation in the state of Indiana is not a formal divorce, is not an annulment either. It is a legal agreement between marriage partners to live separately, although simply living apart does not by itself establish a “legal” separation. A couple must file for formal legal separation status to obtain the benefits of legal separation. In northwest Indiana, obtain the legal help you’ll need from an experienced Lake County family law attorney.

CAN A JUDGE ORDER COUNSELING DURING A LEGAL SEPARATION?

During the period of legal separation, the court may compel the separated spouses to seek counseling for themselves or for their child or children if either party makes a motion for counseling in an effort to improve the marriage; if either spouse, one of the children, or a court-appointed special counsel makes a motion for counseling for the child; or the court may order counseling if a judge believes that counseling will be helpful. The court may not require “joint” counseling of the spouses unless both consent or if there is evidence that one spouse has demonstrated a pattern of domestic violence.

A divorce in Indiana is legally called a “dissolution of marriage.” To file for either a divorce or a legal separation, a least one partner must be a resident of Indiana or stationed at a U.S. military installation in the state of Indiana for at least six months immediately preceding the filing. At the time of filing, at least one party must be a resident of the county or stationed at a U.S. military installation within the county where the petition is filed for at least three months immediately preceding the filing.

Before you arrive at any final decision about ending your marriage, it can’t hurt to seek some advice. If you have a best friend whom you discuss such things with, talk to that person. If you’re a member of a faith community, it probably provides counseling that’s right for you. Plenty of counseling resources are available in the Lake County area in both the public and private sectors.

Legal separation is never final; eventually, a married couple either reunites or moves toward divorce, but a legal separation in Indiana offers you and your spouse some breathing space and some time to assess your marital situation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about fourteen percent of the married couples who file for legal separation eventually resolve their differences and remain in the marriage. An experienced Lake County divorce attorney can explain more about the legal separation process.