A legal separation isn't only a step in the process toward divorce. Instead, a formal separation is a legal designation with particular ramifications. Therefore, before you petition the court for a legal separation, it's important to understand what you're asking for and what the consequences may be for you.
Different Types of Separation in New Mexico
Not all marriage separations are the same. In New Mexico, you and your spouse may decide to have a:
- Trial separation. You don't need the court’s permission to live apart on a trial basis. However, despite your separate living arrangements, you'll still be considered married, and all laws concerning property, debt, support, and inheritance continue to apply to you and your spouse.
- Permanent separation. If you and your spouse don't intend to remain married, you may seek a permanent separation. But once again, you'll still be considered married under the law. Since you're seeking to live apart permanently, it's important to create a separation agreement to determine who's responsible for debts, what happens to assets accrued during the separation period, and what the custody and visitation arrangements are for your children. If you decide on a permanent separation, then in most cases, you'll also want to seek a legal separation.
- Legal separation. A legal separation is similar to a divorce. It follows the same legal process, but instead of formally ending your marriage, a legal separation separates your financial lives and creates certainty for your children. To be legally separated, you and your spouse must live apart and intend to do so permanently. During this process, you'll divide property, determine liability for outstanding debts, decide on child custody issues, and determine spousal and child support. However, unlike a divorce, you're not allowed to marry while separated.
If you decide on legal separation, you must file a petition for legal separation with the court. Once the issues in your case are resolved, the court extends a final decree of legal separation.
Reasons for a Legal Separation
There are various reasons why people choose to pursue a legal separation rather than a divorce. Some couples no longer wish to live together but:
- Want to remain legally married for religious reasons.
- Need to retain certain benefits, such as health insurance or Social Security, for a spouse.
- Want to separate legal debts so only one spouse is responsible for them.
- Need space apart, but aren’t sure divorce is the right option.
Whether a legal separation is right for you is a personal decision to review with a family law attorney. There are costs and paperwork associated with obtaining a legal separation—many of which are duplicated for divorce proceedings. If your ultimate goal is a divorce, then a formal separation isn't always necessary.
What to Include in a Legal Separation Agreement
The process for getting a legal separation in New Mexico is similar to getting a divorce. Your agreement with your spouse should include:
- Child custody and visitation arrangements
- Child support information
- Spousal support information
- How property and debt will be divided
If you and your spouse can't agree on these issues, it's up to the court to decide them for you.
Get Legal Advice First
You have a lot at stake if you want a legal separation, just as you do if you seek a divorce. Before you make decisions that may impact you, your children, and your family’s finances, take advantage of an opportunity to speak with an experienced Albuquerque family lawyer to discuss all options.
We want you to make informed choices that are best for your life. To schedule an initial consultation, use the convenient contact form on this page, or call us today.