When a marriage is not working, when a couple decides that being together or living together is no longer realistic or advisable, divorce is not the only recourse for changing the legal status of the relationship. For many Colorado couples, legal separation is an attractive alternative to a full divorce.
Legal separation in Colorado means more than just living apart, and it isn’t necessarily “simpler” or “quicker” than a full divorce. Like a divorce, it involves a court proceeding and it involves addressing and resolving all of the same important issues – property division, maintenance, child support, custody and visitation – that need to be handled in a divorce proceeding.
The process begins, as with a divorce, with the filing of a petition with the court. Instead of asking for a divorce decree, however, the petition requests that the court grant a decree of legal separation. This final decree is very much like the final decree in a divorce case, specifically listing the various rights and obligations of the parties as they embark on their separate lives. But unlike a divorce proceeding, the couple remains married after the conclusion of the process. This means that the spouses can’t remarry, among other limitations
Why would a couple want to separate yet still remain married? The reasons are many, from the spiritual to the financial to the practical. Colorado couples may choose legal separation over divorce because:
- Religious beliefs or morals make divorce an unappealing or impractical option
- They want to protect one spouse’s health insurance benefits
- They are a military family wanting to secure health insurance benefits under the Uniformed Services Spouse Protection Act which requires that couples be married for at least 10 years to be eligible for benefits.
In addition to the foregoing reasons, some couples choose legal separation because they may not be completely ready to give up on the marriage. Legal separation allows a couple to address the (non-emotional) issues between them without the same finality involved in the formal termination of a marriage.
But if, after the filing of a petition for a decree for legal separation, one or both of the spouses does in fact want to proceed to a full divorce, the case can be converted into a divorce proceeding. Similarly, after a Colorado decree of legal separation has been issued, either spouse can convert it to a decree of dissolution after six months has passed since the entry of the decree. This conversion will usually not involve a re-litigation of the issues addressed in the separation proceeding and will instead incorporate the terms of the separation decree into the new divorce decree.
If you are contemplating ending your marriage, or are considering separating, you should meet with an experienced Colorado divorce attorney who can help you decide wither legal separation is the right choice for you.