Understanding Legal Separation in New Jersey
A divorce, whether it be conducted amicably through divorce mediation or hard fought in the court system, signals the end of the marriage. In most cases, this is exactly what the parties involved want. However, some couples may want to separate without definitively ending the marriage. This would be were legal separation comes in. In New Jersey, while there is no law formally outlining an official method of legal separation, there is a similar concept called a separation agreement. Within this contract you will address many of the important issues you would have to reach an agreement on in a divorce. This includes topics such as:
- Child Support
- Child Custody
- Parenting Time
- Equitable Distribution of Assets
- Distribution of Payments for Household Bills
While there is no need to go to court in order to produce a separation agreement, it would still be wise to contact a legal expert in conducting separation mediation in order to make the process of coming to a consensus easier. Steve B. Menack has decades of experience in helping couples reach an agreement that is fair to both parties. It would also be wise to have a family law attorney review the agreement on your behalf to make sure everything checks out. Once this contract is signed and notarized by both parties it will become legally binding, meaning that if one party breaks the terms of the agreement the other can take them to court over the infraction.
Read our comprehensive guide to divorce mediation and legal separation in New Jersey for more information.
Benefits of Legal Separation Over Divorce in NJ
The key difference between divorce and legal separation is that in a divorce the marriage has ended, while in a separation you are still legally considered married. This has several benefits that divorce cannot offer such as:
- Avoiding the Stress of Divorce – Divorce can be a very taxing process that can drag out for a long time. Legal separation can be a much more moderate affair with less stress and time commitment.
- Religious Reasons – One or both of the parties involved may object to divorce on religious or moral grounds.
- Tax Benefits – Both you and your spouse can still take advantage of marital tax benefits.
- Healthcare and Insurance Benefits – One spouse can remain eligible for the healthcare and insurance benefits of the other. However, sometimes there are clauses that disallow legally separated couples from gaining these benefits, so make sure to check your policy.
- Government Benefits – If one spouse will soon become eligible for their spouse’s government benefits or Social Security, it can be wise to pursue legal separation rather than divorce.
- Leaving the Door Open to Reconciliation – If you feel your situation may improve with some time apart and that future reconciliation is an option you want to keep on the table, legal separation allows that.
- Less Costly – Divorce can get expensive. A legal separation is generally a much cheaper option.
Situations Where a Separation Agreement Can Be Invalidated
There are some situations in which a separation agreement can be set aside. Common reasons include:
- One party did not fully disclose all their assets and/or liabilities
- There was a lack of representation by legal counsel and a party did not fully understand what they were agreeing to
- There was not a fair distribution of assets
- The agreement was made under duress or through coercion
- One or both parties were unaware of their legal rights
If any of these apply to your situation then there may be grounds to have the separation agreement invalidated. Some of these pitfalls can be avoided with proper separation mediation and the personal legal counsel of a family law attorney.
How Do You File For Legal Separation in NJ?
Legal separations are not officially outlined by any law in New Jersey, and since separating from your spouse does not require a court to be involved, an NJ separation agreement can be reached as soon as both parties agree on terms. Most separation agreements can be settled within only a few months, but will ultimately depend on both sides being on the same page in every aspect of the separation. Every part of the separation agreement must be agreed upon before it can be considered valid including custody of children, payment of obligations such as child support and alimony, and division of marital assets.
If negotiations between spouses break down during the legal separation process, filing a complaint for divorce will likely be your only option. Once a divorce action is made, the court will become involved and will ultimately reach decisions that cannot be decided on by both parties.
Can You Date While Separated From Your Spouse?
During the separation, you and your spouse can agree on whether or not you want to date other people and include it in the separation agreement. However, you should be aware that introducing another person into your life can cause problems when trying to resolve marital issues. For example, if you have received a separation agreement, you are still married to your current spouse and cannot remarry until you have gone through divorce proceedings. If you plan to remarry in the future, your only option is to file for divorce.
If you think a separation agreement will lead to a divorce down the line, it is best to avoid getting into a new relationship until the divorce is final or you are sure that your current spouse is on the same page on every aspect of the divorce.
Commonly Asked Questions About Legal Separation
We get a lot of questions from our New Jersey clients about separation. Here are some common questions we are asked:
- What is a Legal Separation?
- Is There Such Thing as a Legal Separation in New Jersey?
- What is Divorce from Bed and Board in NJ?
- Why Would You Get a Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?
- How Many Years Do You Have to be Separated to be Legally Divorced?
- How much does it cost to file for legal separation?
- What Does Legally Separated Mean?
- How to File for Legal Separation
- How Long Can You Be Legally Separated?
- What is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?
- How to Get a Legal Separation Without a Lawyer
We can help you understand the separation process with answers to these questions and more.
Need Assistance With Legal Separation?
Legal separation does not need to be a stressful or antagonistic process. Steve B. Menack has been helping couples reach separation agreements through a collaborative and positive process for over 25 years. If separation seems like the right course for you and your spouse, do not hesitate to contact us so we can begin the process right away.