When a couple legally separates, they may have to fill out the same types of forms as they would if they were getting divorced. The types of legal separation forms that must be completed and filed with the court depend largely on the jurisdiction in which a couple separates. Each country has its own laws regarding divorce and separation, and in the United States family law differs from state to state. Typically, standard legal separation forms include whatever is necessary to file a court case, as well as financial settlement and child custody agreement forms.
In a legal separation, a married couple who wishes to live separately asks a judge to formally and legally divide their property and finances and approve and enforce matters of child custody and visitation. Unlike divorce, legal separation does not give either spouse the right to remarry without first getting a divorce. In the United States, legal separation is not an option in some places. In those states where it is an option, legal separation forms are often very similar to divorce forms. One or both spouses must fill out a form that petitions the court for legal separation, which usually must state the grounds or reasons for the separation request.
Once a spouse files for legal separation, other legal forms must be used. The petition for a legal separation and a summons to appear in court must usually be served to the other spouse. This usually requires that whoever serves the form on the other spouse fill out an affidavit of service. The spouse receiving the petition must then file a response form with the court. If either spouse is unable to pay for court costs, he or she may be eligible to apply for a court fee waiver. Forms for court fee waivers are available at individual courthouses.
When a spouse files for legal separation, the judge will want to see a financial agreement and, if the couple has children, a plan for shared custody. Many courts provide standard forms that a couple can use to describe their custody agreement, sometimes also known as a parenting plan. In some court systems, these forms can be numerous. They may include special forms describing parental agreements regarding holidays and vacations as well as standard visitation issues such as weekend visits.
Spouses can sometimes download free legal separation forms online. However, it is typically a good idea to speak to a lawyer about plans for legal separation. If the couple eventually divorces, many judges rely on the financial settlement described in the original legal separation forms. If one spouse acquiesced to the other spouse's demands during the financial settlement for the separation in hopes of reconciliation, that spouse may not be able to claim his or her fair share of the marital estate during a divorce. Each spouse should retain an attorney who can review a separation agreement to ensure that the needs and rights of the client are protected.