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Overview of legal separation

Married couples in North Carolina sometimes decide to separate rather than go through an actual divorce. Although a separation may eventually lead to a divorce, it could also be a time for a married couple to work out relationship issues before ultimately deciding to stay married. A separation could take place outside of court, or a spouse could decide to file for a legal separation.

When a married couple legally separates, a court might make many of the same decisions that it would make during a divorce proceeding. Similar to alimony in a divorce, one spouse may be ordered to pay the other spouse separation maintenance. A judge will also make decisions about child custody, child visitation and property division.

If a couple legally separates, the date of separation could have an effect on property division decisions that are made if and when the couple finally divorces. Property or debt that is acquired during a legal separation could be considered one spouse's separate property rather than marital property. However, if a spouse acquires debt after a separation that was used to make payments on the marital home or care for children, this debt will likely be considered marital debt rather than separate debt.

Decisions that are made by a judge during a legal separation could have a strong influence on a future divorce settlement. Therefore, a spouse who is legally separating might want to have legal representation to assist in the determination of property division and child custody. A family law attorney can help to make sure that decisions made during a legal separation do not adversely affect a client's rights.

Source: FindLaw, "Legal Separation vs. Divorce", accessed on Jan. 21, 2015

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