Is Legal Separation the Same as Divorce in New Jersey?

Is Legal Separation the Same as Divorce in New Jersey?

Breaking up, calling it quits, splitting up. Ending a relationship, no matter what words you choose to describe it, can mean a lot of different things depending on you who are and how you view the experience. When it comes to the law and in New Jersey divorce cases, however, the terms used to describe the end of a relationship or marriage do matter. That’s because legal separation and divorce are not the same thing.

People may use the term “separation” to describe any type of breakup, whether it be the end of a dating relationship, a long-term relationship, or a marriage. In some states, the term “legal separation” can actually refer to a legal process where married spouses separate and live apart from one another without getting an actual divorce. It may be used by couples who want time apart, the ability to address issues like custody and finances, and the opportunity for future reconciliation. It does not legally end a marriage.

New Jersey does not have any formal law for legal separation. If spouses want to separate and take some time apart from one another, they have every right to do so. In order to address some of the more practical elements of a the marriage and the separation, however, separating spouses may want to seek available alternatives to “legal separation” that may help them deal with the issues at hand without having to file for divorce.

Common issues separated spouses may want to address include:

  • Child custody and visitation/parenting plans
  • Child support
  • Temporary spousal support (alimony)
  • Payments for shared expenses or debts, such as a marital home
  • Management of joint accounts and assets

To address matters like these, spouses may have a few options, depending on their circumstances, and their ability to work together to reach a resolution:

  • Separation Agreement – One of the most common ways spouses address issues created by a separation is to negotiate and sign a separation agreement. These agreements can outline any terms spouses wish to address while they live apart, and they become legally enforceable when signed by both parties. It may also form the basis of a divorce settlement, should separated spouse choose to divorce at a later time. Reaching agreements like this, and ensuring your rights and interests are protected, requires both spouses to be willing to negotiate, communicate effectively, and reach compromise, and can benefit from the counsel of an experienced attorney.
  • Separate Maintenance – If spouses disagree about support-related matters, including spousal support or child support, a party may choose to file a Complaint for Separate Maintenance. This legal action allows one spouse to seek spousal and / or child support from the other while they are separated. It does not have any affect on a marriage, and it does not address other issues they may have, such as property division.
  • Divorce from Bed and Board – State law also recognizes Divorce from Bed and Board, another process for addressing the issues of separated spouses. This procedure has the same grounds as a traditional divorce (i.e., irreconcilable differences (no-fault), adultery, etc.), but requires both spouses to willfully participate. When filed, spouses can still reach agreements to settle their issues, or may take a case to trial and let the court decide. In either scenario, any property earned after the complaint is filed will be considered separate property, though spouses will still be legally married. Spouses can also convert a judgment of Divorce from Bed and Board into a formal divorce if they wish, or can suspend or revoke it if they reconcile.

Considering Separation or Divorce? Moskowitz Law Group, LLC Can Help

Separations can be viewed as a form of “limited” divorce, as compared to a formal “absolute” divorce. Although everyone has their own reasons for choosing a separation over a divorce, a separation through any of the means mentioned above is commonly used for a few reasons, including:

  • Spouses want to preserve eligibility for benefits
  • Health issues and continued health insurance coverage under a spouse’s employer
  • Religious beliefs and/or social concerns
  • Spouses want to “test the waters” to determine if they want to divorce or reconcile
  • Immigration concerns

Whether you are separated from your spouse and need to address issues like support, are considering a separation, or are unsure as to whether a separation or divorce is right for you, our caring and compassionate team at Moskowitz Law Group, LLC can provide you with the information and representation you need. To speak with a New Jersey divorce attorney during a FREE consultation, contact us.

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