Marriage partners in Colorado who have decided to conclude their marriages may choose from several legal options. Before you choose to divorce, let a Leadville family law attorney explain to you the pros and cons of legal separation and annulment as well as divorce.

Divorcing spouses should thoughtfully consider legal separation. In Colorado, legal separation is similar to divorce in some ways and quite unlike divorce in several other ways.

What is accomplished when couples legally separate? What does the procedure entail? Is legal separation the right choice for you? Is it right for your spouse? Keep reading, and you’ll learn how a legal separation works and what it accomplishes.

Why Do Some Couples Choose Legal Separation?

There’s no rule that tells you whether divorce or separation is the right choice. However, couples usually decide on legal separation rather than divorce for one or more of the following reasons:

1. The partners need a break from the marriage, but reconciliation is still possible.
2. One or both of the spouses have moral or religious objections to divorce.
3. The partners are using separation to “ease” into a divorce.
4. A legal separation maintains one partner’s medical insurance coverage.
5. The partners want to avoid the stigma that divorce entails.

Legal separation also maintains some specific employment- and military-related benefits that one partner would lose in a divorce, and it allows the couple to continue enjoying the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy.

What Are the Steps in the Legal Separation Process?

In Colorado, living separately from your marriage partner isn’t enough to constitute a legal separation. In fact, the legal separation process in this state is quite similar to the divorce process.

First, the spouses must submit a petition for legal separation to the court. The paperwork that a legal separation requires is nearly as confusing and complicated as the paperwork a divorce requires.

At least one partner must satisfy Colorado’s residency requirement, which means one spouse must have resided in the state for a minimum of ninety-one days prior to filing for separation.

Have some patience. It will take at least another ninety days for the court to act on your petition, which must offer legal grounds for the separation request. However, like Colorado’s no-fault divorce process, you don’t have to prove that your spouse is “guilty” of anything or “at-fault.”

What is the Purpose of the Ninety-Day Waiting Period?

Simply explaining to the court that your marriage is irreparably broken and cannot be reconciled is sufficient grounds for legal separation. The ninety-day waiting period is provided for couples to negotiate – privately and out-of-court – the terms and conditions of the separation.

This part of the legal separation process is just like the divorce process. Both parties must agree on the matters of child custody, child and spousal support, and the division of marital property. Otherwise, the court will impose an agreement that may not satisfy either of you.

A legal separation agreement is a binding contract that spells out the responsibilities and rights of each spouse while they reside separately. It should determine who pays what bills, who the children reside with, and how property like vehicles and the family home are to be divided.

Can a Legal Separation Be “Converted” Into a Divorce?

When a judge issues the legal separation order, the spouses are then free to live independently of one another, but neither spouse may marry another person. However, after six months, the couple may ask the judge who issued the separation order to convert it into a divorce decree.

Legal separation gives a married couple “personal space” and time to reevaluate the condition of their relationship. It is the practical option for spouses who no longer want to live together but cannot divorce or aren’t yet ready to divorce.

What is the Top Priority of Colorado’s Family Courts?

Under Colorado law, both partners must agree to a legal separation. If the partners are also parents, there are some additional considerations, because in any legal matter that involves children, the top priority of a Colorado family court will be the best interests of those children.

Generally speaking, the courts presume that children should have meaningful, continuing relationships with each parent, but when parents legally separate and can’t reach an agreement regarding child custody, the court may determine what’s best for the child or children.

In some legal separations, the court may order the parents to work out their custody dispute through the mediation process.

What Else Should You Know About Legal Separation?

If a couple is thinking that legal separation in Colorado is simpler than divorce, they may be disappointed. Legal separation entails almost all of the legal steps and requirements that a divorce entails. It’s not a cheaper, easier way to accomplish the goals a divorce accomplishes.

Eventually, legally separated spouses reconcile or divorce. The Census Bureau reports that about fourteen percent of couples who legally separate eventually reconcile. Legal separation is an “in-between” legal status that treats spouses as married for some purposes and divorced for others.

A Colorado divorce or family law attorney can advocate on your behalf to ensure that nothing in a legal separation agreement poses a risk to your long-term interests.

What If You and Your Spouse Reconcile?

After a legal separation has been granted by the court, if you and your partner reconcile, you may petition the court to terminate the legal separation with a “motion to dismiss.” Your attorney will prepare the motion on your behalf.

No one is required to seek legal separation. Many married couples live separately with no formal agreement or court order. However, if you and your spouse are living separately – or planning to – a legal separation agreement protects your rights, properties, assets, and related interests.

If you’re planning to separate or divorce in Colorado, you must seek sound advice and effective representation. Your long-term interests must be protected, and if you have children, they must be protected too.

The Importance of Having the Right Family Law Attorney

In any matter of family law, you should work with a family law attorney who is sensitive to your needs, but your attorney must also offer aggressive representation and full legal protection for your children, your rights, and your long-term interests.

If you legally separate or divorce in Colorado, a good attorney’s help is essential, and having that help is your right. Arrange to meet with a Leadville family law attorney to discuss your options and decide whether legal separation or divorce is best for you and your marriage partner.