Separation Vs. Divorce in Florida

When marital life becomes unbearable, spouses may think about breaking up. A legal way to end a marriage is to apply for divorce.

To do this, one spouse, called a petitioner, has to file a Petition for Marriage Dissolution with a local court. After that, it is necessary to serve the other party with copies of documents, notifying them about the initiated process. Then, spouses should take part in litigation, if required, and wait till the court decides on the case and issues a divorce decree. The duration and complexity of a divorce vary due to case specifics. Usually, contested cases are longer, more stressful, and more expensive than uncontested marriage dissolution.

However, not everybody is ready to apply for divorce straight away. Separation may seem like a less ultimate option, leaving the space for cooling off, analyzing difficulties, and figuring out what to do next.

Separation may work for some couples while being a waste of time for others. If you are hesitant about what to choose, this article may come in handy. We have meticulously studied the topic of divorce and separation in Florida, compared a separation agreement vs. divorce settlement, described the pros and cons of both processes, and provided some tips on how to decide what option is better in your case.

Is Legal Separation Allowed in Florida?

If you try googling “What is legal separation in Florida?”, you are unlikely to find a clear definition simply because this state doesn’t recognize such a concept. However, it doesn’t mean that a divorce is the only viable option for couples that live through difficult times.

While there are no particular regulations on legal separation in Florida, spouses still can live separately without terminating their marriage. To do that, they should:

  • Come to an agreement. Spouses need to reach a mutual decision on maintaining separate residencies. In some cases, e.g., due to religious reasons, partners may consent to live separately on a permanent basis. However, if spouses seek separate living just to understand whether they want to proceed with a divorce, it is better to determine a specific timeframe. They will both know when the period expires and will be able to get ready for further steps. Besides, spouses must discuss all issues related to children, finances, and other relevant topics.
  • Draft a written agreement. Once all potentially conflictual matters are settled, it is necessary to clarify them in a written form. Though such a contract isn’t comparable to a binding separation agreement issued in the states that recognize a legal separation, it can serve as a roadmap for spouses living apart. Therefore, it is paramount to make the document detailed, comprehensive, and clear. If spouses want to define their rights and responsibilities concerning property and debts, they should prepare a separate postnuptial agreement. Besides, a parent who will be the main caregiver for children can fill a formal petition for support with the court. The document covers child support and alimony but doesn’t relate to custody and visitation schedules.
  • Get legal consultation. This stage isn’t obligatory but may turn out beneficial over time. When spouses have documented their agreements, they may order the lawyer’s consultation to ensure they don’t miss something important. Once again, though this document has no legal force, people tend to adhere to written contracts more obediently than verbal arrangements.

As you can see, while living separately, it’s rather difficult to protect your rights and make a partner follow the terms of an agreement strictly, as a contract isn’t enforceable in the same way as legal separation agreements in other states. Probably, that’s the reason why some people who compare legal separation in Florida vs. divorce immediately opt for the second option just to avoid the period of uncertainty. However, that isn’t always the case. Other couples may attend family therapy during separation and eventually restore their relationships.


Legal Implications of Separation and Divorce in Florida

What is the difference between legal separation and divorce? You’ve probably understood the main distinction – people remain married when choosing separate living and become divorced/single when marriage dissolution takes place. However, there are more intricate details to keep in mind when comparing legal separation vs. divorce. Check them out below.

Factors to Consider Separation Divorce
Property Division ·                While there is no formal court process for property division during separation in Florida, couples can voluntarily agree on how to divide their assets and debts and specify their decisions in a postnuptial agreement. If well-drafted, the agreement may be considered by the court if a couple later applies for divorce. ·                In Florida, the court follows the principle of equitable distribution in divorce cases. It means that marital property (assets and debts acquired during a marriage) is divided in a fair and equitable manner, though not necessarily equal.

·               When deciding on property division, the judge will consider such factors as the length of a marriage, each spouse’s financial contributions, their economic circumstances, and any contributions to the marriage, such as child-rearing.

Child Custody ·               When choosing separate living in Florida, spouses may create a separation agreement on child-related matters.

·               While there may be no formal court process for determining parental responsibilities and time-sharing during separation, couples can voluntarily agree on a parenting plan that addresses the child’s needs and is mutually acceptable.

·                In Florida, the formal term for “custody” is “parental responsibility,” which refers to the authority and decision-making responsibilities of each parent regarding the core aspects of a child’s life. When deciding on parental responsibility and time-sharing (visitation) during the dissolution of marriage, the court focuses on the kids’ best interests.

·                Parents have to attend parenting classes and prepare a parenting plan outlining how they will share the responsibilities associated with a child’s upbringing. If parents come to an agreement, the court will generally approve the plan as long as it is in the child’s best interests.

The court does not give any preference to either parent when deciding child custody matters. Parents are viewed as equals when custody issues are resolved.
Alimony ·               Couples that choose separation in Florida may clarify their alimony decisions in a written agreement. For instance, they can specify the desired terms of financial support during separation, the frequency and longevity of payments, and any other relevant issues.

·                However, since Florida does not recognize legal separation, alimony may not be granted unless a couple is going through a divorce process.

·                There are several types of alimony available to divorcing couples in Florida. The court may award temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony. The judges determine the appropriate type, considering the duration of a marriage, each spouse’s financial capabilities, the standard of living established during the marriage, and the contributions of each spouse to the marriage. If spouses agree on alimony, the court will consider their decision when rendering a verdict.

·                The duration of alimony may vary. For example, the court may award a temporary alimony during the divorce proceedings and grant a permanent alimony once a divorce is finalized.

  The purpose of alimony is to provide the means for one party to return to a normal life and is not aimed at punishing the other spouse.


How to Choose Between Separation and Divorce in Florida

Separation or divorce – which is better? There is no universal answer, considering that every family story is unique. However, if such a question has popped up in your mind, you surely want to understand the separation vs. divorce pros and cons and get clear guidelines on how to make a well-informed choice. Make use of the following ones:

  1. Evaluate Your Current Family Situation

Even the most loving spouses have conflicts and misunderstandings. However, some problems are temporary and can be resolved, while others make cohabitation stressful, exhausting, or even dangerous. For instance, if spouses have problems with trust, they can live apart temporarily and see a therapist during that period if they are interested in reconciliation. But when one spouse is regularly subject to physical or emotional abuse, marriage dissolution seems to be a more reasonable option.

  1. Consider Children’s Well-being

Kids’ well-being is directly affected by the atmosphere in a family, and parents should do their best to ensure their children are loved, secure, healthy, and happy. However, when adults experience problems in their marital relationships, caring for children properly may be difficult. If you want to save your marriage but need time alone to figure out how to do it, it’s better to choose a separation. If you see no possible way to continue living with your partner, you should go for divorce.

Remember that both divorce and separation are turbulent periods, as things have changed for everybody in a family. However, with the assistance of a competent psychologist, redressing the inner balance and adapting to new conditions will be easier.

  1. Think About Financial Stability

Consider the financial implications of divorce and separation. Evaluate your financial standing, assets, and debts.

Divorce denotes the legal ultimate ending of a marriage. Therefore, all financial benefits that a marital status offers are lost. In turn, separation is a more advantageous financial choice in this regard. By choosing separation, couples can still use specific advantages associated with marriage, like tax, healthcare, and insurance benefits, while leading separate lives. Besides, a separation period can be used by each partner to work out individual financial issues if a divorce is unavoidable in the future.

However, regardless of all the financial benefits of a legal separation, some couples select divorce straight away. They state that they want to resolve financial disputes once and for all and get a clear feeling of finality, eliminating the financial ties a marriage involves.

  1. Evaluate Your Emotional State

When making the choice between divorce and separation, you need to understand your emotional well-being and consider your feelings. Reflect on your emotions, discerning whether the challenges in the marriage are temporary and whether you want to overcome them to keep living with your partner. If emotional distress seems tied to specific situations, separation can provide a time for respite, defining and assessing your worries. However, if the emotional strain feels overwhelming, divorce may offer a sense of closure. Seek guidance from therapists or support networks to gain a deeper understanding of your true needs. Thus, you can be sure the decision you make is in harmony with your long-term well-being and personal development.

  1. Determine Future Goals and Plans

Think about your long-term goals. Evaluate your aspirations and how they align with your desired relationship status. If there’s a chance for reconciliation or a need for a temporary break, the separation allows for understanding your inner desires while leaving room for potential reunion. Conversely, if the future entails a clear conclusion to a marriage, divorce may be the more fitting option. Clearly articulate your goals and plans individually and as a couple so that you both understand what awaits you.