Does Florida Recognize Legal Separation?
Divorce is a big and final step that completely severs the legal ties between a couple, a step that not all spouses are ready to make. However, living together is not always a viable option either if the quality of the relationship is unhealthy or making one or both spouses unhappy. They may realize a break is needed to reassess and try to repair the existing issues, and wish to formalize the arrangement into a legal separation. Unlike other states, Florida does not have an officially recognized version of legal separation that can serve as a pausing point before formal divorce proceedings are initiated. The point of legal separation is to retain the rights and privileges of marriage, but to live apart, with certain protections related to support and child custody in place until a final decision is made. If couples in Florida want to create this arrangement, they must do so by written agreement, as Florida courts do not have the authority to order interim relief while a decision on divorce is mulled over. A discussion of how to achieve the effect of legal separation, and why this option may be better for some spouses, will follow below.
Creating Legal Separation
In order to address all the pertinent issues that separation would trigger – child custody, child support, the access and use of property – a postnuptial agreement should be executed that outlines how the spouses want to address these matters. These agreements must be executed with certain formalities to be enforceable, including:
- It must be writing;
- Both parties must sign it; and
- Full disclosure of all sources of income, assets and liabilities must be provided and attested to by each spouse.
To make these agreements effective, they should be as detailed as possible, and at a minimum, set out:
- The disposition of the marital home;
- Spousal support or alimony;
- Child support;
- Where the child will principally live and a time-sharing schedule;
- The property each spouse will be permitted to keep; and
- What counts as a breach, as well as the remedies for the other spouse.
Note that Florida courts will issue some orders without a pending divorce petition, especially those related to child support. Alimony is sometimes awarded, but not as readily. Child custody agreements are helpful but may not be accepted if a divorce and formal custody arrangement is sought at a later time, as the best interests of the child will determine if the proposed plan is adequate.
Why Seek a Legal Separation
Given that courts cannot recognize and enforce a legal separation, the natural question of why one would consider this option at all arises. Legal separation may be a better choice for legal and practical reasons, such as:
- To avoid the termination of healthcare coverage for a spouse, particularly one with serious and/or chronic conditions;
- To retain the tax deductions offered to married couples;
- To secure military spousal benefits, which require ten years of marriage;
- To avoid repercussions some religious groups impose on divorced followers; and
- To give the couple more time to decide if divorce is the choice they want.
Further, maintaining the marriage through a legal separation can later help obtain alimony and a larger property settlement because the marriage lasted longer. While legal separation may not be the answer for all couples, it is worth consideration and a discussion with a Florida divorce attorney if divorce is undesirable for logistical, legal, or practical reasons.
Contact Us Today for Help
If you are considering separation or divorce, and need advice about your rights and responsibilities, speak with the experienced attorneys at All Family Law Group, P.A. Disentangling the connections and obligations of a romantic relationship is never easy, but our legal team can relieve some of the associated stress so you can focus on moving forward. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-672-1900 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+