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Legal separation a possible step before divorce

Divorce is not always the final word in a relationship. Although it does legally end a marriage, it does not prevent couples from falling back in love or even remarrying. While divorce is one way to resolve issues in a marriage, sometimes couples aren't ready to completely call it quits but still need space and time away from one another. For those couples a legal separation is a possibility.

Legal separation differs from divorce in a number of key ways. In Utah, legal separation is called separate maintenance, and while it does not end a marriage, it does establish orders the couple must follow while living separately. Although it only takes one person to file for separation, in order to qualify for legal separation the couple must be lawfully married and have resided in Utah for at least 90 days. Like most court actions there is a filing fee, but the fee can be rolled into a divorce petition if one is filed within a year of the separation.

Couples who agree on issues can sign a separation agreement which details the rules of their separation. A separation agreement is a legally binding agreement and can be very complex depending on the party's wishes. For couples who don't create a separation agreement, the court will enter a legal separation order which can include requirements for that custody arrangements, housing, property and debt management, and anything else deemed necessary.

While a separated couple can decided to live apart for as long as they desire, a legal separation agreement only lasts for a year. When the separation agreement ends, the parties can decide to divorce, stay married, or file for another separation agreement.

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Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law
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