Married couples often separate as a first step towards divorce. However, sometimes the couple does not immediately file for divorce, and remains in a separated status. Couples may not file for divorce in a timely manner or they may never file for divorce. Some people wonder, “Is permanent separation possible?” This article will outline what the legal ramifications are.

Legal Separation

In Arizona, a legal separation is its own action separate and apart from a divorce.  A couple does not have to begin a legal separation in order to eventually obtain a divorce.  If parties intend to live separate and apart, but not necessarily divorce, this can be a good option.  A legal separation decree will still divide assets and debts, provide for spousal maintenance if appropriate, and allocate rights and responsibilities for common children.  A legal separation will also have the benefit of allowing a spouse who provides health insurance for the benefit of the other spouse to keep that spouse on their coverage.  This is typically not available in the context of a divorce. It is important to note that although the couple is legally separated, the parties are still considered married.

Benefits of a Legal Separation

It is typically not advisable to simply live apart indefinitely without a legal separation in place.  Arizona is a community property state which means, even when the parties are no longer living together, their marital community will still continue to acquire assets and debts that become the joint asset or debt of each party.  Conceivably, one party can generate thousands of dollars of debt without the other party even knowing it, and both parties will ultimately be responsible.  However, when a Petition for Legal Separation is filed and served on the other party, the “community” will terminate and each party will begin to acquire assets and debts only for themselves.

Religious Reasons

A long-term separation may be preferred by some married couples who are not able to seek a divorce due to religious beliefs. A legal separation allows both parties to live separate lives, with their own property and finances. The legal separation may go on for years; however, neither party may remarry unless a legal divorce is granted.

Other Advantages

A legal separation also affords couples the opportunity to make some important decisions that affect both themselves and their children. These include putting a parenting time plan into effect, legal decision-making, and child support choices. These will be legally enforced, just as they are when they are part of a divorce decree. By resolving some of these issues through a separation agreement, the couple can take their time working through the divorce, or even deciding whether to proceed forward at all. Those who are considering a legal separation should speak with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Is Permanent Separation Possible?, or any other family law issue, please feel free to contact Sheri D. Shepard at 480.461.5300, log on to, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.