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Divorce • Family law • estate planning
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When spouses wish to part ways, the finality of divorce is usually best

As a popular culture would have us believe, breaking up is hard to do. With all the emotional and financial upheaval that is often involved with a nuptial parting of the ways, some on-the-rocks couples opt for what may seem to be the easier route of some form of separation. 

Despite the first-blush attractiveness of separation, though, the legal protections and finality that divorce provides usually makes it the best course for couples with irreconcilable differences.

People are often confused by what, exactly, “separation” means, and therein lies one of the fundamental problems with separation — its ambiguity. There are several types of separation, each of which affect property rights differently. They can be defined as follows:

• Trial separation, in which a couple tests the waters of separation for a period. Because trial separations are not legally recognized, all assets and debts amassed during such a period are usually considered marital property.
• Living apart, which is another nebulous, temporary arrangement, during which assets and debts can be accumulated that, depending on the state in which splitting couples reside, may or may not be considered joint property.
• Permanent separation, which is a de facto disunion. In most states, debts accumulated during this period are considered the obligation of the spouse who incurred them, with the exception of those debts amassed for certain necessities, such as child-rearing or household maintenance.
• Legal separation, which is when spouses separate and a court rules on the division of property, alimony, child support, custody and visitation. If legal separation seems to be divorce in all forms but the name, that is because couples who prefer this option usually choose it because they are opposed to divorce on religious, personal or financial grounds.
• One type of legal separation, annulment, is a legal outgrowth of religious opposition to divorce that U.S. states adopted many years ago. An annulment can sometimes be granted in circumstances when fraud has been committed (for example, in the case of a husband who said he wanted children but did not reveal to his wife that he had had a vasectomy prior to the marriage).

In the case of annulment based on alleged fraud, the fraud must first be proven legally. Divorce is more straightforward and unencumbered by the issue of fault. Indeed, in many states, simplified divorce procedures exist for those couples with no children and few assets or debts.

In Virginia, a spouse can avoid the potential stress that a courtroom face-off presents by appearing at a court-reporter-attended deposition. After that, his or her attorney files the transcript of the deposition along with the spouse’s final decree of divorce. In some cases, a deposition can even be conducted over the telephone. Within a few days of the filing, the court returns a final decree.

With the finality that a decree signed by a judge provides, spouses who divorce can proceed with their lives assured that all legal and financial issues related to the marriage have been settled. A competent divorce lawyer will help to make sure that all issues have been resolved and will expedite the process, saving the parties involved time, emotional stress and potential expense.

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