The legalities involved in ending a marriage can be quite complex and difficult to understand for most people without an in-depth knowledge of the law. Is divorce the only option? What does dissolution of the marriage entail? What is legal separation and what does it entail? A million questions come to mind when you are exploring your options.
In the state of Indiana, couples can opt for legal separation if they do not want to get divorced immediately. These are two distinct legal alternatives in front of you. The procedure for getting a legal separation is different from the procedure for getting a divorce. The end result is also different. Many couples prefer to go for a legal separation for many different reasons. For example, your religion could prohibit divorce, or the insurance coverage that both parties are receiving may be of great importance at the time. There are also some tax-related reasons why people opt for legal separation instead of divorce.
If you are looking to pursue legal separation in the state of Indiana but are unsure about the way to move forward, we have compiled a comprehensive guide that will give you an outline of what to expect.
Legal Separation vs Divorce
As we discussed before, legal separation and divorce are two distinct methods of legal recourse that you can choose from. While both will have a lasting impact on your marriage, the end result differs in both cases. First, let’s discuss legal separation. It is a process that is designed to allow couples to work through issues like child custody, division of property and support while they are still officially married but want to live apart. The court that you approach will have to pass a legal order that while you are still married, you live separately legally. In the state of Indiana, legal separation can only last for a period of one year, after which the couple has to decide whether or not they want to stay in the marriage or get a divorce.
In case of a divorce, your marriage will be coming to a legal end. It is a method design to dissolve the marriage if the couple decides that they do not want to be married to each other anymore. It requires the filing of a formal request for divorce by either spouse. The terms of the divorce are usually negotiated by both parties (the couple), but if they face a problem while trying to reach a consensus, the court can step in and settle the dispute for them. Once the judge signs the final court order, the couple is no longer legally married. They are allowed to remarry at any point after that. However, it must be noted that you cannot marry when you are legally separated from your spouse.
There is no right choice between the two options mentioned above. What works for one couple may not work for another so the decision has to depend on your experience. Many couple use the one-year period of separation to take a final call on their marriage. Some try reconciliation, while others decide to part ways permanently. Legal separation also has less social stigma associated with it than divorce.
Requirements and Grounds for Legal Separation
Every state has some basic requirements for you to be eligible to file for legal separation or divorce in the state. If you are looking to get a court order for legal separation in Indiana, either your spouse or you need to have been a resident of the state for a period exceeding six months. In addition to this, at least one of the spouses needs to be a resident of the county where the legal separation petition is being filed. This period is shorter, at least three months.
Another requirement is that neither you, nor your spouse, should have filed for divorce before this petition for legal separation is filed. If a petition for divorce exists, the legal separation cannot be granted.
There are some acceptable grounds for legal separation. The grounds for legal separation in Indiana, according to the Indiana Code 31-15-3-3, are given below:
- If the conditions or circumstances of the marriage are making it intolerable for both parties (spouses) to live together.
- The couple wants to stay in the marriage legally.
Procedure for Legal Separation in Indiana
The procedure for filing for legal separation is different in different states. In Indiana, it is slightly different from many other states as the time period of this separation is limited to just one year, after which another decision needs to be made. If you are looking to file an action for separation in Indiana, the following steps will be able to guide you through it more effectively.
Step One: Create Separation Agreement
- Before you consider legal separation, confirm that your spouse hasn’t already filed for divorce. A petition for legal separation doesn’t stand if one party has filed for divorce.
- Make sure that you fulfill the requirements for filing for legal separation in Indiana.
- Sit with your spouse and respective lawyers to draw up a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a legally binding contract that states how your property and assets will be divided between the couple, custody of children and any support required by either side. It should also mention the reasons behind the separation.
- If you are unable to come up with a separation agreement on your own, try involving a neutral third party that may be helpful in drawing up the separation agreement.
Step Two: File the Petition in a Court of Law
- Once the separation agreement is drawn up, you will need to get it signed and notarized by a licensed public notary. This is a legal oath that all the information mentioned is correct and to the best of your knowledge.
- Take the agreement to your county clerk’s office, where someone will be able to confirm that you have all necessary documents.
- You will also have to include a summons for your spouse, so that he or she can be informed that you have filed a petition for legal separation. This form can also be found at the county clerk’s office.
- Finally, you will have to pay a filing fee and set a court date where the court reviews your petition and ensures both sides are on the same page.
Step Three: Follow up on the Decision
- Once the court has approved your petition for legal separation, you may need to attend counseling to work on your marriage. Both parties cannot be forced to attend counseling together unless they are willing to.
- If you are not looking to opt out of the marriage, this is the time when you are required to work with your spouse on your marriage.
- If you are looking to end the marriage after a year, you can maintain a distance over that time period.
Step Four: Take a Final Call
- As the year comes to an end, you will have to make your final decision. If you have reconciled with your spouse, you can continue to live with them, but if you don’t want to stay in the marriage, you will be required to file for divorce.
Legal Separation Costs
If you are looking to file a petition for legal separation, you will have to pay a filing fee at the county clerk’s office. The fee ranges between $200 and $300 and can be paid using a number of different methods, which will be specified on the court’s website or at the county clerk’s office. In addition to the filing fees, you will also be required to pay for legal assistance, if you opt for it. Lawyer fees can really rack up over time if the process is long drawn.
- The judge can order the couple to attend counseling if either spouse, or their children request the judge for this. However, you cannot be forced to attend the counseling together if either side doesn’t want to be in it together.
- If there has been any violence in your marriage, counseling is ruled out as an option immediately.
- While many people try to represent themselves in such trials, it is important to understand that the legal separation action can be quite complex – because of the number of forms and documents involved. In such cases, it is recommended that you get some legal assistance. Your discussions with your attorney will be completely confidential and he or she will be able to lead you through the proceedings more effectively.
If you, or your spouse, are a resident of Indiana and are looking to file a petition for legal separation, you need to be prepared to take your case to court. Ensure that you have all documents in place – at least three copies of each – and that you attend any court hearings that you are required to be at. Finally, even once the legal order for separation has been obtained, it is only valid for a period of one year in the state of Indiana. You will have to use this time to decide what way you want to take going forward. While some couples opt for a divorce – which can be filed any time during the phase of legal separation as well – others are successful at reconciliation.
A legal researcher by trade, Steffan serves as the Editor for all of eDivorce’s helpful guides and blog posts. He loves writing about the legal process in an effort to help reduce the complexities of the legal system. Learning from his own personal divorce, he enjoys sharing what has helped him, what didn’t, and how to move on with your life.