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What is legal separation?

Couples living in Illinois who may not be ready for a divorce may want to consider pursuing a legal separation. While legal separation is a formal arrangement and is approved by a judge, it does not legally end the marriage.

In order to seek a legal separation from a spouse in Illinois, an individual must file a petition with the clerk of the Circuit Court. They must establish that they are not at fault in causing the separation and that each spouse lives separately. The other spouse is served with a summons and can then file a response to the petition. The case is brought before a judge who can come to decisions about each spouse's obligations or determine whether an agreement that the couple has been able to come to is fair. The judge will then issue an order or judgment setting forth the rights, responsibilities and obligations of each party.

Although legally separated, each spouse still cannot marry until the marriage is dissolved or the couple divorces. However, one spouse may seek child support or alimony. The judge may also decide who gets custody of children as well as who retains sole use of the marital home although not who retains ownership of the home. If a divorce occurs later on, a spouse will not have any claim over assets acquired by the other after the separation.

For those individuals who may not find legal separation to be enough, an attorney who has experience in family law matters can help a client file for divorce. The attorney might also help with issues of child custody, spousal support and property division.

Source: The Chicago Bar Association, "Legal Separation", July 11, 2014

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