IS THERE SUCH A THING as “legal separation” in Florida? It depends. Many Florida family lawyers would probably tell you there is no such thing as legal separation in Florida. They would be right in that there is not a process like you might find in other states whereby a judge enters a judgment declaring a couple legally separated, but not divorced.
However, for those couples who might not yet wish to file for a divorce but desire to separate, and need to address issues such as alimony and child support, there is legal recourse. In Florida, we don’t call it legal separation, instead, you might hear a term like “legally separate maintenance,” “support unconnected with dissolution,” or even “post-nuptial agreements.”
These essentially are contracts between the parties which address support issues, handling of finances, and living arrangements of family members during the separation. This allows the parties time to decide either to pursue counseling or to move forward with dissolution of the marriage.
Both parties do not have to agree to the separation for one party to be awarded temporary support and maintenance. Florida law states that if you are living apart from your spouse, you (or your spouse) may petition to the court for temporary support for yourself and/or any minor children of the marriage.
For many older couples, in particular, there may be valid legal reasons not to divorce, like the need of one party to keep the other party’s social security credits or health insurance benefits.
If separation is a temporary measure and the parties anticipate eventually dissolving the marriage, it is important to keep in mind that any property accumulated during the marriage, under Florida law, is considered to be marital property (and the parties may be equally liable for debts incurred during the marriage as well) regardless of whether the property was acquired during the separation. In that case, both parties may be entitled to the property at dissolution.
Such situations often can arise during long separations, leading to some nasty legal disputes by the time the couple decides to divorce. If you and your spouse intend to legally separate but not to divorce immediately, it is best to contact an attorney experienced in post-nuptial agreements to ensure these types of issues are discussed and addressed in your agreement.
Attorney Sandra K. Ambrose is an AV-rated family lawyer with 28 years experience. She’s been named one of the Top Women Lawyers in Central Florida, and recently was recognized as an AV Preeminent Attorney. Prior to entering private practice, Ms. Ambrose served as General Magistrate/Hearing Officer for the 18th Judicial Circuit Family Division where she heard thousands of family related matters, such as child support enforcement, child custody, equitable distribution, paternity, and divorces, as well as mental health cases.
If you are considering separation or divorce, contact Ms. Ambrose today to schedule an appointment to discuss the particulars of your case and find out how she can help you.