What is separation?

What is separation?

In Oregon, a legal separation is similar to a divorce in that upon entry of a judgment of separation, a judge will divide the couple’s debts and assets, make child custody and parenting time decisions, and determine whether spousal support is necessary. The primary distinction between a legal separation and a divorce is that, even once a legal separation is final, the couple is technically still married. Thus, neither spouse can remarry unless one of the spouses later changes the separation to a divorce.

There are a few reasons why a couple may seek a judgment of separation rather than a divorce. For example, a couple may have irreconcilable differences could potentially improve over time. Legal separations can be temporary or indefinite. If one of the spouses later decides to convert the separation into a divorce proceeding, they can do so. Alternatively, if the parties work things out, a legal separation can be set aside so that it is no longer in effect.

Another reason why a couple may file for separation rather than divorce is that there are no residency requirements to file for an Oregon legal separation. To file for divorce in Oregon, either spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months. That is not the case with a legal separation; either spouse can file the petition in the county where either spouse lives. Once a legal separation is filed, and the other spouse served, the court will impose a restraining order prohibiting either spouse from disposing of or diminishing marital assets. Under this order, spouses can only spend money on necessities, including food, shelter and medical treatment.

Certainly, legal separations have a limited purpose. However, the few reasons why a couple may choose to file for a legal separation over a divorce:

  • If neither of the spouses meet the residency requirement to obtain an Oregon divorce;
  • If either of the parties have a religious or moral objection to getting divorced;
  • After a legal separation, one spouse may be able to stay on the other spouse’s insurance policies; and,
  • If the parties do not desire the finality of a divorce, but want a court to divide the couple’s property, make custody decisions and award spousal support.

Legal separations are also useful for parties who intend on divorcing, and want to get the process started, but do not want to rush into the process. For example, if one spouse was a homemaker, filing for separation before divorce may give that spouse time to get in a better financial position before initiating the divorce proceeding. Legal separations are also commonly used to allow children to finish out a school year before starting the divorce process.

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