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Divorce vs. Legal Separation: Which is Better for You?

Divorce vs. Legal Separation: Which is Better for You?

an older man looking out of the windowMaking the decision to end your marriage is never an easy one. However, it is often one that is necessary for the health and well-being of those involved.

When most people think about ending their marriage, they may think divorce is the only option. There are, however, several other ways to end your marriage that may work better for you and your unique situation.

Below, our Jacksonville family law attorneys discuss three ways to end your marriage.

Three Ways to End Your Marriage

In general, there are three ways to freeze or end your marriage: divorce, annulment, and legal separation.

Divorce

In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage.” This state is one of many that has abolished fault as a ground for a dissolution of marriage. Therefore, the only element that must be established is that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Either spouse can file for a dissolution of marriage. In order to complete the process, the following must be proven:

  • A marriage exists.

  • One spouse has been a Florida resident for six months preceding the filing.

  • The marriage is irretrievably broken.

The dissolution of marriage process can involve judgment on several issues, including:

  • Division of assets and debts

  • Awards of spousal support

  • Decisions on parental responsibility and time-sharing schedules

The dissolution of marriage process does not always have to be contentious. If both spouses agree that they want to end their marriage and can amicably determine how assets should be divided, they may explore the collaborative dissolution process.

This process involves both parties and their attorneys signing a collaborative participation agreement that describes the nature and scope of the matter and using good faith efforts to negotiate. In this situation, both spouses have more control over the outcome of their dissolution of marriage than in a more contentious divorce process in which a judge will make a ruling on the divorce agreement.

Annulment

An annulment is another way to terminate a marriage. However, unlike a divorce or a dissolution of marriage that recognizes the marriage existed, an annulment means the marriage was never a valid legal contract.

There are certain elements that must be demonstrated in order for a marriage to be annulled. Most importantly, anyone wishing to pursue an annulment should not wait too long to do so. The longer a petitioner waits, the more likely the marriage will be considered by the courts to be valid, and the parties will have to file for divorce instead.

Additionally, you and your attorney must be able to demonstrate that the following conditions existed:

  • One or both of the parties lacked the understanding to be able to intelligently commit to the marital contract.

  • One of the spouses materially misrepresented himself or herself.

  • One of the parties lacked the ability to consummate the marriage.

Examples of legal grounds that can be used to annul a marriage include:

  • Underage spouse

  • Incest

  • Bigamy

  • Insanity

  • Duress

  • Impotence

  • Fraud

Legal Separation

Legal separation is a unique way to establish child custody, child support, property and debt division, and spousal support while maintaining the legal contract of the marriage.

Essentially, spouses in a legal separation are still legally married, meaning neither can remarry until a formal divorce is finalized.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that only a handful of states allow for a legal separation, and Florida is not one of them. In Florida, spouses can live separately without the need for a court order, and can ask the court for guidance on child custody, visitation, and more.

In states that do recognize legal separation, such an agreement is a legally binding document that contains the terms and conditions of the separation. Once the court approves the agreement, it becomes a court order. This means neither spouse can stray from the terms of the agreement without asking the court to modify it.

Deciding Which Method is Right for You

Determining how you want to end your marriage is a personal decision. However, there are some common reasons that individuals choose one method over another:

  • Divorce: Divorce is ideal for spouses who know they no longer want to be together and do not have any religious beliefs that conflict with the divorce process. Whether the spouses go through a collaborative or a contentious process depends on how well they can agree on the elements of their divorce.

  • Annulment: Annulment is typically pursued by individuals whose religious beliefs require it as the only way to end a marriage, or by individuals who were coerced into a marriage.

  • Legal separation: Legal separation is ideal for spouses who want some time apart but do not want to legally end their marriage. This may be used as a “dry run” for an official divorce so the spouses can see what it would be like to live apart from their spouse and co-parent with them. However, this is not an option for those living in Florida.

Want to End Your Marriage? We’re Here to Help

If you would like to end your marriage, but you are not sure the best method to take, our Jacksonville family law attorneys can help you determine which solution is best for you.

At Owenby Law, P.A., we know no two couples are the same and, as such, each and every client receives unique attention and a tailored approach.

Contact us today at (904) 770-3141 to schedule a consultation with our team.

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