Legal Separation

What is legal separation? In Utah, legal separation is termed, “Separate Maintenance”. It looks like a divorce in all respects except the parties are not actually divorced. That means, either by agreement or decree of separate maintenance, the court allocates various things to the couple. Such things could include child support, custody, alimony, property settlement, etc.

Besides the legal designation of still being married, the couple entering into legal separation does not have to go through the divorce requirements of taking the divorce education classes and waiting the ninety day period.

It is important to stress that once a couple enters into legal separation, the state considers them married and they must file for divorce. This is the case only if that’s the ultimate course they seek. A legal separation never turns into divorce automatically.

In all other aspects, the legal separation is accomplished in the same manner as a divorce. A couple can agree on the terms and propose it to a judge.  Or, if they can’t agree, they can ask a court to make a determination. The requirements for getting into court are also the same, for instance, the parties must have been residents of the county in which they file for the previous three months.

Here’s the caveat regarding legal separation. Unlike divorce, which can happen on grounds of irreconcilable differences, a party seeking legal separation must claim specific grounds. In Utah, they are:

Whenever a resident of this state:

  • Deserts a spouse without good and sufficient cause;
  • Being of sufficient ability to provide support, neglects or refuses to properly provide for and suitably maintain that spouse;
  • Having property in this state and the spouse being a resident of the state, so deserts or neglects or refuses to provide such support; or
  • Where a married person without that person’s fault lives separate and apart from that spouse, the district court shall, on the filing of a complaint, allot, assign, set apart and decree as to alimony the use of the real and personal estate or earnings of the deserting spouse as the court may determine appropriate.
Peter ChristensenLegal Separation