There are two options to end your relationships in WA state: divorce and legal separation. In this article, you will learn about legal separation in Washington state and how it differs from divorce.
In a nutshell, both of these options change your legal status and share some similarities. However, unlike divorcees, legally separated spouses remain married and may use a lot of the benefits that their marriage has granted them. On the other hand, divorcees can remarry and do not have legal ties to their spouses.
Is Legal Separation the Same as Divorce?
No, these options are very different. While divorce in Washington state completely ends your marriage, you will still be married after legal separation.
According to Washington state divorce law, you will be able to get orders covering childcare and assets in both cases, and the filing processes, as well as forms, will be similar.
Separated couples will be able to change their mind and either reconcile and end the separation or change it into divorce. On the other hand, spouses who divorced cannot back out of it but can marry other people and be financially independent of their spouse.
Divorce Versus Legal Separation
Getting divorced in Washington state presupposes that the spouses are no longer willing to maintain any relationships and are willing to end their marriage. In this regard, both can remarry and manage their property and assets, if any, after the divorce.
If you have decided to file for legal separation in WA state, you will be given almost the same options except that you are still going to be married. It is a popular alternative to marriage dissolution in the US, especially among those whose religion prohibits divorce.
If a couple has managed to get along, they just need to request the judge to terminate their legal separation arrangement. So, this option is beneficial for those spouses who are not completely sure that they want to end their relationships.
Similarities Between Divorce and Legal Separation in Washington State
Although divorce and separation are different legal processes, they share some similar features:
- Legal aspect. Both options are described in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), Chapter 26.09. All the processes outlined in the code are virtually the same as they address marriage dissolution and separation at the same time.
- Procedure. Filing either for divorce or separation, the couple would take the same steps and pay the same filing fees.
- Forms. Filing for legal separation, you will use the same forms as for marriage dissolution (even though their names can be different).
Differences Between Divorce and Legal Separation in Washington State
There is a widespread misconception that legal separation is ‘a probation of divorce.’ In fact, these are two different ways of ending a relationship.
There are some of the key differences between divorce and legal separation:
- Waiting period. There is a mandatory 90-days waiting period for marriage dissolution in WA state as soon as the petition was filed with the court. Until this time, marriage dissolution cannot be finalized. With a legal separation, there is no need to wait for 90 days. However, it is still a common practice for many couples to wait in order to avoid any problems in court.
- Health care and social security benefits. If one of the separated spouses has healthcare coverage from their employer, the second spouse can still use it. This privilege is not available to the divorced couples.
- Finances and taxes. Unlike divorcees, separated couples may still get an inheritance in case of the death of the other spouse and will have to file taxes with a “married” status.
- Decision-Making aspect. Separated couples are still eligible to make some important decisions concerning their marriage. On the contrary, divorced couples are fully autonomous when it comes to it.
- Ability to remarry. Being divorced, you can marry your new significant other. However, separation makes it impossible due to the fact that the previous marriage was not terminated.
When it comes to the possibility of remarriage, the state allows the couple to convert their separation into a marriage dissolution. However, 6 months should pass after separation was granted for this legal action to be initiated.
This process is quite easy and takes approximately 2 weeks to be finalized. Besides, once the spouse has requested conversion, the second party has no right to object to it. In the end, all terms of the Final Decree of Divorce remain the same as they were in the legal separation paperwork.
How to File for Legal Separation in Washington State
Filing for legal separation is very similar to filing for divorce in Washington state:
- Find the forms. You will need to have a full packet of documents suitable for your specific case. For example, if you have children and property, make sure you have all the papers covering these aspects.
- Fill in the forms. Make sure you have filled out all fields applicable to your case with accurate information about the parties. You will also need to make 2 copies of these forms before filing them.
- File the documents with Superior Court Clerk. You will also have to pay the filing fee. The average fee in WA state is $280. If you cannot afford to pay, you can obtain a fee waiver.
- Check if the Temporary Order is issued. Such order restrains the couple in some situations until the separation is finalized. Please note that you are still allowed to contact each other.
- Serve the paperwork and Temporary Order on your spouse. In WA state, it should be performed by a county sheriff, process server, or any third party over 18 years. Your ex then has 20 days to respond to a petition or 60 days if they were served out of state.
- Fill out the required financial forms and ask your spouse to do the same. You will then have to exchange these forms to check each other’s finances and submit the proof of it to the clerk.
- Contact the clerk and schedule the final hearing. On this day, appear in the court and bring the rest of the paperwork with you.