Some people want the court to make orders legal decision-making and parenting time with regard to their common children, spousal maintenance, division of property and apportionment of debts, and other relief typically granted in a dissolution of marriage action, but do not desire that the marriage be permanently dissolved. In such cases, the person may seek a decree of legal separation in Arizona.
A legal separation is not what people generally think of as a “trial separation”. A trial separation is an informal arrangement that couples may enter into to separate while married and hammer out some sort of working relationship while they decide on their own the future of their relationship. A legal separation is a formal court procedure. The same Preliminary Injunction that restricts the conduct of the parties during a dissolution of marriage action is likewise issued to restrict the conduct of the parties during the case. Property is divided and debts are apportioned. Enforceable court orders are made for legal decision-making and parenting time for the parties’ common children and child support obligations are set. Nonetheless, following the entry of a decree of legal separation, the parties remain legally married to one another and may not marry another person. Legal separation status may differ from that of marriage dissolution for purposes of the ability of one spouse to continue to cover the other spouse as a dependent for health insurance purposes.
If one of the parties to the marriage initiates action for legal separation, the non-initiating party has an additional option of asking that the court grant a dissolution of marriage rather than a legal separation. If the non-initiating party does so, the court is obliged to treat the case as one for dissolution of marriage and proceed forward on that basis.
Can an existing court decree of legal separation be converted to a decree of dissolution of marriage?
After a couple has been legally separated by court decree, either or the spouses may subsequently pursue a dissolution of the marriage should he or she choose to do so. Such cases are usually short and relatively simple, as all details concerning children, support, maintenance, property, and debt were already decided in the decree of legal separation and it is only the status of the marriage that changes.
One more thing. While proceedings can be brought to convert a decree of legal separation to a decree of dissolution of marriage, this does not work in reverse. A party cannot bring an action to convert a decree of dissolution of marriage to a decree of legal separation.
Contact Victor Garnice if you have questions, would like to learn more, or would like to commence a legal separation case.
Also see more information on the difference between legal separation and divorce in Arizona.