New Jersey courts do not formally recognize legal separation; if a married couple decides to separate, they may do so on their own without having to obtain permission from a judge. Some couples choose to separate in order to reassess their commitment to a marriage. Living separately can give each person the space they need to make the important decision of whether to stay in a marriage or divorce.
However, there are other important decisions to be made when married couples separate but don’t divorce, including child custody and support, temporary alimony, management of marital assets and debts, and other issues similar to those you would face if you were going through a divorce. These issues are dealt with through a separation agreement, which is a written contract between two separating spouses that typically remains in place until you either reconcile or divorce.
Creating a separation agreement does not require a trip to court if you are able to work out the terms of the agreement on your own, usually with the help of a family law attorney. The process is similar to negotiating any other kind of contract and once the terms are agreed to and the agreement is signed, it is considered binding. If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of the separation agreement, you can try mediation or go to court.
While New Jersey courts do not formally recognize legal separation, there is a similar process known as Divorce from Bed and Board, although it is rarely used. With this option, you file a complaint with the court citing one of the same grounds you would use if you were filing for an absolute divorce — irreconcilable differences or separation (living apart for at least 18 months) for no-fault divorce, or addiction, adultery, extreme cruelty, mental illness, imprisonment, or deviant sexual conduct for fault divorce. You can either negotiate your own agreement that addresses support, custody, and visitation issues, or ask the court to decide. Both spouses must agree to this option, and if you decide to formally divorce later, you can request that the court convert your agreement to a final divorce decree.
There are a number of reasons why married couples decide to separate rather than divorce, but it’s important to ensure that your children and your financial assets are protected during this time. If you want to live separately from your spouse but are not quite ready for divorce, speak with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney about protecting your rights.
It is important that you do not wait too long to retain an attorney when you are facing a family law issue. Delays can cost you valuable legal rights, and you want to make sure that you have the advice and support you need to make the best decisions for you and your family long after the divorce settlement is reached. Contact us today for your free consultation.