No one enters into a marriage with the expectation that it will end. However, people and circumstances change over time, and a once-thriving marriage may find itself in turmoil. When this occurs, often couples will decide to pursue separation before filing for divorce. Legal separation in Florida occurs when a married couple ends cohabitation and lives separately for a period of time. Under Florida divorce law, separation alone may not affect either spouse’s marital status or property rights. There is no statute defining legal separation in Florida.
While Florida doesn’t recognize legal separations, a couple that desires legal recognition of their actual separation without divorcing can utilize a number of Florida statutes. For example, Florida allows the court to order child support during separation. Furthermore, Florida will enforce a marital separation agreement and may even award alimony in some cases without separation.
The functions of divorce and marital separation confirmed by a court order are largely similar. Both establish financial support for the children, divide assets and debts, and grant alimony in some cases. Divorce terminates a marriage, whereas a couple remains married in a marital separation.
Florida family law provisions establish the basis for obtaining orders concerning marital separation, as well as the procedures to obtain legal separation.
Although the Florida courts have not made rules for separation, the courts can actively participate in the process.
Separated couples are not prohibited from maintaining any other proceedings for additional relief during the separation. Florida law allows couples to make legal agreements to formalize the terms of a separation.
In Florida, a couple may enter into the legally binding agreement on their own and follow its terms. Still, the agreement can provide the same result as a legal separation in other jurisdictions. In Florida, however, the court does not approve the agreement or resolve disagreements.
Separation agreements are intended to resolve property, debt, and child-related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this, or they decide to prepare their own.
Petition for Support
The spouse who abandons the marital residence without filing for divorce can be ordered to pay child support and alimony. A “Petition for Support Disconnected with Dissolution of Marriage” enables one spouse to receive child support and alimony from a spouse that has moved out. The petition specifies that the request is not related to a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
Post Nuptial Agreements
The couple executes a post-nuptial agreement that includes the terms and conditions of the division and distribution of assets, debts, alimony, and other issues in the event of a divorce.
If a spouse sues for support, the court has the power to adjudicate the financial obligations of one spouse to the other spouse and the child. The Florida courts can establish the child’s primary residence. The court determines custody and visitation rights for the parties during the separation.
Florida permits a so-called ‘limited divorce’ that is similar to legal separation in other states. Grounds for a limited divorce are cruelty, desertion, and voluntary separation. The court establishes the primary residence of the children, which is the place where the children spend most of their time. The court decides the visitation rights of the noncustodial parent. Florida requires separated parents to list their income and resources and calculates a support amount paid monthly by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent. If a divorce petition is eventually filed, the court takes up the issues of visitation, custody, and child support, as well as other agreements such as the division of property. If the couple does not proceed to a divorce, then they remain legally married.
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