A legal separation can involve a court order declaring that a couple is no longer living together, and that all the issues concerning the marriage have been resolved (child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, distribution of property, attorney fees, and personal conduct), but the marital status of the couple remains unchanged. A legal separation may be sought by a couple who wish to stay legally married to protect significant religious, financial, social or legal interests. Most jurisdictions require a waiting or "cooling off" period before a court will issue a divorce judgment, but there is not ordinarily a waiting period before a court may issue an order of "legal separation" or "separate maintenance". Spouses who are separated may not remarry since they are still married under the law. Adultery during legal separation may have ramifications in a divorce action.
Some suggested actions for a legally separated couple include:
- Make copies of financial documents and consult with a financial advisor.
- Reassure the children that they will be safe, sheltered, and cared for. Do not use them as messengers or for emotional support. Do not say bad things about the other parent to them and make sure that they understand that the breakup was not their fault.
- Put a freeze on all joint credit accounts.
- After moving out, take your name off utility bills, leases, and other joint debts.
- List all addresses, phone numbers, and account information on mortgages, bank and credit accounts, insurance policies, pension accounts, and any other financial paperwork you will need after the separation.