Some people who are experiencing marital discord might be unsure whether to file for divorce or instead separate to try to work out their differences. Others do want to separate and have no plans to reconcile but also do not want to divorce because of religious, financial, moral, or other reasons. If you want to separate from your spouse in New Jersey, it's important to understand how separation works in the state.
Does New Jersey Have a Law Outlining Legal Separation?
While New Jersey has a law that allows legal separation between partners in a civil union, it does not have a legal separation statute for couples who are married. This means that you can't file a complaint for legal separation in court if you are married. This does not mean that you can't legally separate from your spouse, however.
For married couples, New Jersey allows an action called a divorce from bed and board, which is a type of limited divorce. This process allows a married couple to resolve certain issues, including dividing their property, determining alimony and child support, and making arrangements for residential and legal custody of children. However, this process can take a long time and be expensive. When the case is over, the couple will remain legally married.
Most couples choose to separate by negotiating a legal separation agreement instead of going through the court process to obtain a divorce from bed and board. Negotiating a separation agreement can be done outside of court, and the agreement will be legally enforceable without the time and expense involved with a court process.
What Is a Separation Agreement?
New Jersey couples can draft a separation agreement to outline terms concerning all of the issues they need to resolve. This is a written legal contract. After it is signed and notarized, it will be legally binding and enforceable on both spouses. Spouses who wish to separate but do not want to divorce can draft this type of agreement so that they can resolve all issues that might arise in a traditional divorce, including property division, spousal support, child support, and parenting time.
A separation agreement can allow you to achieve your goals without having to go through the court process. This can save you time and money. Expenses and fees can quickly balloon during a court action. A separation agreement also gives you some security. If your spouse violates one or more provisions of your agreement, you can file a motion in court to enforce it. This might result in your spouse being ordered to pay your legal fees and ordering your spouse to comply or face possible sanctions.
If you and your spouse later decide to move forward with a divorce, you can include a provision in your separation agreement that calls for it to be incorporated in your divorce decree. This type of provision can make the divorce process much faster and easier since the major issues will have already been resolved.
You and your spouse can also continue to live in the same home while you have a separation agreement. Some couples opt to continue living in the same home for economic reasons. Your agreement will still be valid and enforceable.
Separation Agreements vs. Divorce Settlement Agreements
Couples who enter into separation agreements can address and resolve all of the issues they would otherwise resolve in a divorce without terminating their marriages. After a separation agreement is signed and notarized, it will be legally enforceable. However, the couple will remain legally married. A divorce settlement agreement covers the same types of issues as a separation agreement, but it might be drafted as a part of a divorce and incorporated into the final divorce decree. Couples who have divorce settlement agreements and complete divorces will no longer be legally married.
What Are the Benefits of a Separation Agreement?
There are several benefits to a separation agreement. People can resolve the issues they would otherwise have to address in a divorce without having to file anything or go through the divorce process. Filing for divorce can involve hundreds of dollars in filing fees and ongoing litigation expenses when the spouses don't agree on all of the terms.
A separation agreement should address all of the same issues involved at the end of a marriage, including the following:
- Dividing the assets and debts
- Distributing the assets and property
- Payment of alimony
- Parenting time and legal custody of children
- Payment of child support
Negotiating a separation agreement can allow spouses to make decisions about their future without having to go to court. A divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC can help couples identify the relevant issues and resolve them. Then, the NJ divorce attorney can memorialize everything and draft a formal agreement for the parties.
If you later decide to get divorced, you can include a provision for your separation agreement to be included as a part of a divorce decree. This can help you resolve your case much faster since the outstanding issues will have already been resolved.
If you can reconcile, you and your spouse can use your separation agreement as a road map for improving your relationship. You might find that some of the terms should be incorporated into your daily life to keep the peace in your marriage.
If you can't reach a separation agreement with your spouse, you can always opt to file an application with the court for determinations of child support and custody even without filing a complaint for divorce.
Find an Attorney in Essex County NJ
If you and your spouse want to pursue a separation agreement instead of a divorce, you should talk to a New Jersey divorce lawyer at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC, with offices in Bergen and Essex County. We can help you negotiate the terms of your agreement and ensure that everything is drafted properly. Call us today for a case review at (973) 878-4373.
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