What is a legal separation?

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Updated: 4/13/2007 6:35 pm
A legal separation results when a couple separates and a court rules on the division of property, alimony, child support, custody, and visitation, but doesn't grant a divorce. The money awarded for support of the spouse and children under these circumstances is often called 'separate maintenance' instead of alimony or child support. With a legal separation, any assets accumulated or debts incurred after the separation has become finalized aren't considered jointly owned. Each spouse is responsible for his or her assets or debts. A legal separation is different from a trial separation. A trial separation occurs when a couple lives apart for a test period to decide whether or not to separate permanently. Even if the couple doesn't resume the relationship, the assets they accumulate and debts they incur during the trial period are usually considered jointly owned. A legal separation is also different from a permanent separation. A permanent separation occurs when a couple decides to split. It may follow a trial separation or may begin immediately when the couple starts living apart. In most states, all assets received and most debts incurred after permanent separation are the separate property or responsibility of the spouse incurring them. A permanent separation is similar to a legal separation, but a legal separation has been handled by a court, while a permanent separation hasn't.
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