Spending time apart from your spouse in a trial separation is something that can be worked out between the two of you. There's no real legal framework for it since it's regarded as a private matter; however, the date when you began living apart may be relevant when filing for divorce. But if you decide to end your marriage, surely filing for divorce is the logical next step? What's the point in formalizing your separation? 

Formalizing Your Separation

A formal legal separation is different from an informal trial separation. It involves the negotiation of a separation agreement, which is binding to both parties. Even though you may have good faith that your spouse will negotiate fairly and respectfully, not all separations occur amicably. It's advisable to keep matters as orderly as possible. As such, you may wish to engage a family attorney to negotiate the agreement on your behalf.

Details of Your Agreement

The separation agreement details which party will continue to live in your primary residence, whether any children will live with one party over the other (or divide their time equally), and whether either party will pay to support the children. Shared financial responsibilities must also be determined, as the division of assets has not yet been finalized—and the mortgage must still be paid. These are some of the decisions commensurate with a divorce, so why apply them to a legal separation?

Minimum Eligibility Periods for Divorce

Depending on where you live, you may not be eligible for divorce. Some states require minimum residency, and some counties do the same. If you've recently moved, you may need to wait for a minimum eligibility period before you can legally apply for divorce. Legal, formalized separation allows you to take agency over your own life immediately, without the need to wait for any minimum eligibility period to take effect. 

Divorce at a Later Stage

Additionally, the negotiations that led to your formal legal separation laid the groundwork for a straightforward (and ideally uncontested) divorce. The more important aspects of dividing your lives have already been agreed upon by both parties. The division of assets can then be negotiated since shared financial responsibilities will no longer continue. 

A legal separation is not a substitute for a later divorce and does not replace it in any way. It simply provides a legal framework for you to wait out your qualifying period for divorce without technically being in the marriage anymore.

Contact a local family attorney for more info.