In many states, it can be optional or even required for couples to go through a period of legal separation before a divorce. In Texas, there is no separate status of “legal separation”–until the day a judge signs a divorce decree, a couple is fully married. This can impact divorcing couples in several ways.
Some states require a lengthy waiting period before a couple can be legally divorced. For example, in Maryland, divorcing couples must be separated (meaning not living together or having sexual relations) for up to a full year before they can be divorced. Texas has a relatively short waiting period. A divorce may be finalized as soon as the 61st day after the divorce was initially filed, although it is the rare case that can be completed that quickly.
Property Valued at Divorce
Many clients can be surprised that assets, like retirement accounts, are valued at the time of divorce, even if the couple has gone through a lengthy separation. If a couple lives apart but does not divorce, they continue to accumulate community property and community liabilities. A divorcing spouse can request that the court take each party’s conduct during separation into account when dividing community property, but generally community property will be valued and divided as of the divorce date.
Alternatives to Legal Separation
If a couple wants to live apart but remain married, there is no formal option of “legal separation” in Texas. However, there are some alternatives to address property and child-related issues outside of a divorce. Couples have the ability to enter into post-marital agreements that can divide some or all of their property between them so that issues are limited in any future divorce. Parents who live apart can also obtain orders relating to custody and support by filing a suit affecting the parent-child relationship even if they continue to be married.