Legal separation is a status which married couples may seek. It allows a married couple to live separately without being bound by the actions and contracts of the other, but it is not an official divorce. In Colorado, a decree of legal separation declares that spouses are no longer responsible for each other's support, debts, or taxes, except as provided for in the decree. Much like a divorce, a legal separation allows a couple to divide property, determine maintenance, assign parental rights and responsibilities, and apportion debts between the parties.
How to Obtain a Decree of Legal Separation
A couple seeking a legal separation in Colorado must go through many of the same steps as a couple seeking a divorce. At least one party must have resided in Colorado for 90 days. Then a petition and summons are filed at the court by one spouse and his/her attorney, or jointly by both spouses. The petition states the names and ages of the husband, wife, and all children born or adopted during the marriage; when and where the spouses were married; that the residence requirement has been satisfied; and that you seek a legal separation. It asks the Court to divide the property, allocate parental responsibility, child support, maintenance, attorney's fees, and court costs. If only one spouse files for legal separation, the other party must receive proper notification. The paperwork required in filing for a legal separation is virtually identical to that required in filing for divorce. Just as in divorce, the legal separation can become final after 90 days if uncontested.
Differences between Legal Separation and Divorce
So why get a legal separation? There are several key differences between legal separation and divorce. The first is that you cannot remarry while you are legally separated. Secondly, in the absence of an agreement suggesting otherwise, legally separated spouses do not lose their inheritance rights in Colorado. Next, if you want to ensure access to Social Security, you must be married for 10 years. If you are legally separated, you will still be considered married by Social Security. Finally, many couples may have religious or ethical reasons for choosing not to be divorced. Legal separation allows a couple to avoid being financially tied to each other, while averting the status of divorce.
Additional resources provided by the author
My grateful thanks to Jordan Miller who assisted in the preparation of this legal guide.