There is virtually no difference between a legal separation and a divorce from a litigation perspective. You are required to submit the same forms for both actions. The filing fee is exactly the same. You do gain some tax advantage in a legal separation, but in most cases I've dealt with, those that choose legal separation instead of divorce do so for religious or moral reason, not financial. In a legal separation you are both still responsible for paying your debts, child support, and maintenance if one party requests it -- virtually no financial difference from filing for Dissolution of Marriage.
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The information is for general information purposes only. Nothing stated above should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.
If you file for legal separation and then down the road (when you want to get re-married, perhaps?) you'll have to go through the process of converting it to a decree of dissolution. Seems a lot easier to just get a divorce in the first place and be done with it.
Some persons file for legal separation instead of dissolution of marriage because some employers allowed legally separated employees to buy health insurance for the spouses through the employers. For some persons, especially those with serious medical issues, having health insurance is important.
Other persons prefer legal separation because of other personal or religious reasons.
In WA, the legal procedures and laws are practically the same for legal separation or dissolution of marriage. Assets and debts are divided in a just and equitable manner. Child support is set by the same calculations for both types of proceedings. The parenting plan is determined by the best interest of the children.
Six months after the court entered a decree of legal separation, either or both spouses can ask the court to convert that decree to a decree of dissolution of marriage. The other spouse has no way to block the conversion.
On another hand, in a legal separation, if one of the spouses dies without a will, some of the estate of the decedent may go the surviving spouse.
If both spouses agree on everything, dissolution of marriage can be done for less than $500 if the parties do all the work by themselves. The patterns forms for most WA family law proceedings are free at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/ . The filing fees are about $280. Parents of minor children need to take parenting seminars (about $100). One should factor in the cost of copying and miscellaneous fees.
While there is no legal requirements to hire an attorney to represent oneself, given the complexity of dissolution of marriage, you likely should at least have an attorney review your specific facts with you.
Substantively, a legal separation does everything a divorce does, expect you are still legally married at the end of the process. You still have to divide assets and debts, deal with parenting plans, child support, spousal maintenance, etc. Those are the same in a divorce or a legal separtion, so the cost is no difference. If you get a legal separation and later want to convert it to a divorce, you have to bring a motion to coverts. It is relatively simple because all the court is doing is dissolving the marrige, but it is an extra step (cost?).
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