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Some spouses ask whether they have to be legally separated before they can get a divorce. Massachusetts does not have a procedure called legal separation, and a spouse does not need the court’s permission to separate from his or her spouse. However, it is important to draw a distinction among legal separation, separate support, and separation agreements. Although these terms can be confusing, understanding them can help you more expeditiously resolve the issues arising out of your divorce. LaFountain & Wollman P.C. discusses what you need to know.

No such thing as legal separation in Massachusetts

Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not have something called legal separation. A spouse does not have to have a judge’s permission to live separately from his or her husband or wife. There is such a thing called separate support which is sometimes confused with the notion of legal separation. But separate support is a lawsuit that allows one spouse to obtain financial assistance from the other for him- or herself and the children without getting divorced.

A lawsuit for separate support also allows a spouse to prevent the husband or wife from imposing any limits on their personal freedom. It should be emphasized that a complaint for separate support is not used to obtain a divorce.

The importance of making a separation agreement

While you don’t have to obtain permission to separate from your spouse, it is strongly advised that once you do you start working on a separation agreement. A separation agreement can be used to resolve most divorce issues, including:

  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • The division of marital assets and debts
  • Alimony

Separation agreements can save significant time, money, and stress by allowing spouses to negotiate the above and related matters instead of litigating them in court. This may be accomplished by way of direct negotiations or mediation, an out-of-court procedure in which a neutral mediator helps the parties discuss and settle the above and other issues. Mediation offers other advantages like confidentiality and allowing the spouses to come up with creative solutions to complex issues.

A judge must review the terms of the separation agreement to make sure they are fair and reasonable. Having an experienced attorney draft the agreement will improve the likelihood that the judge will approve it. Once the court does approve the agreement, it will become an enforceable order and the parties can get divorced.

How an attorney can help

There are both fault-based and no-fault divorces in Massachusetts, and contested and uncontested divorces. To determine which one is best for you, it is imperative that you speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney. Your attorney will also assist, if possible, with negotiating a comprehensive separation agreement that will make the divorce itself much easier and less stressful.

Has your marriage come to an end, or are you wondering what happens after you separate? Are you ready to settle the terms of your divorce so you and your spouse can move on with your lives? Talk to LaFountain & Wollman P.C. today to learn more.

About the Author
Attorney Nicholas J. LaFountain has extensive experience litigating and negotiating civil disputes of many types. He has been successfully representing clients in the courtroom since 2004.