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A legal separation without a lawyer allows couples to live apart while being legally married to address issues such as financial and parenting responsibilities.

Many states in the United States allow married couples to file for a legal separation without a lawyer if they choose to live apart as distinct entities. So if you decide to live apart from your partner, there will be a comprehensive contract specifying how the distribution of assets and other monetary aspects would work. And many couples frequently choose legal separation rather than divorce for ethical, financial, or religious reasons or as a test period before deciding to file for divorce.

How to File a Legal Separation Without an Attorney?

With one significant exception, a legal separation achieves the same results as a divorce in many states in the USA. And the couple is still officially married after separation and cannot get remarried. In general, a legal separation can resolve concerns with alimony, child support, custody, visiting rights, and the distribution of assets, debt, and property. The parties will become independent legal entities after a formal separation.

However, a spouse and children may continue to be covered by a working spouse's healthcare program and are still eligible for some military benefits because they are not divorced. Legal separation petitions are filed using the same process as divorce petitions.

Hence if you wish to file a legal separation without a lawyer, you must put together a petition informing the court of your desire for a formal divorce from your marriage. Additionally, you must write a summons that will be delivered to your spouse, informing them that the separation process has begun.

And when planning to register for a legal separation without an attorney's help, you can typically find forms for a formal separation from your state's tribunal. Much larger state courts now feature self-help sections on their websites that include blank forms for frequent cases like legal separations. The tribunal websites may also feature a self-help area where you may pick up or examine sample forms. Another option is to pay a fee to one of the many online businesses selling people legal separation forms. Although the additional paperwork needed in your state may differ, it will often follow the same guidelines as a divorce case.

Also, remember that a judge cannot give you anything you did not request in the initial petition for legal separation. So make sure you have addressed all your request in the legal separation by doing a thorough study and petition preparation.

Moreover, when you and your partner decide upfront what you want to happen regarding child custody, visitation, child and spousal maintenance, and what should happen to the marital home, the entire process will be much simpler.

How to File for Legal Separation?

  • Verify the residency requirements in your state.

    You must first fulfill the federal requirements of your state. The residency requirements apply for both lawful and legal separation, and you must check your state's divorce laws to learn more about the residency requirements.

    For instance, if at least one of you or your partner resides in California, a married couple may file for legal separation. Moreover, similar to civil partnerships, both partners in a domestic partnership may file for judicial separation even if they do not reside in California as long as the domestic relationship remains in force.

  • Prepare to submit a separation petition.

    After meeting the residency criteria, you will submit a legal separation petition to the court using online resources (like your state government's website) or filing by contacting the court registrar. Also, remember that while you must pay roughly $435 for registering your formal separation paperwork, this fee might differ.

  • File a separation agreement as soon as possible.

    File a separation agreement as soon as possible You must submit your legal divorce agreement with your petition for judicial separation. Make sure the agreement addresses everything, including rules and guidelines for dating other people, which may be regarded as adultery in some states, as well as child custody, child support, home visits, and spousal support. It should also address how marital assets (like a house or any vehicles you bought together) might get distributed.

  • Serve the separation agreement on your partner.

    Once you have submitted your application for legal separation, you must serve your partner if you and your spouse are not filing for legal separation jointly. In addition, your partner will have a set amount of time (generally 30 days) to reply to your petition for a legal separation, just like a divorce.

  • Resolve any open issues.

    Your spouse has the right to file a counter-petition if they disagree with the clauses in the petition. If this is carried out and you cannot settle collaborative law or mediation, you will have to go to a judge to resolve the matters you were unable to agree on. And a legal separation can occasionally be just as challenging as a divorce.

  • Notarize and sign the contract.

    If your husband agrees with the terms of the petition, all that is required is for both of you to sign the agreement and have it notarized so that the court official can enter it into the court records for review by a judge.

    However, remember that whatever you do before the court approves the separation agreement could change how things turn out, especially if it involves custody or personal property. A judge can consider that someone who vacates their residence may have abandoned the partnership and given up the ability to seek ownership or custody later.

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What is Legal Separation and How Does It Differ from Divorce?

The legal separation agreement is a legal document that specifies the provisions related to child custody, child support, the division of marital property and debts, and spousal maintenance (also known as alimony in the event of divorce).

In addition, the main distinction between a divorce and a legal separation is that divorce marks the official dissolution of your marriage. Your union as husband and wife has ended, and you're free to wed again or continue to live your life on your own.

However, your marriage to one another is still valid even after legal separation. You must keep indicating on the paperwork that you are married and remarrying is prohibited. Moreover, you are still permitted to inherit property from one another. Unless it can be shown otherwise, a child born to a married woman is officially the child of the other spouse.

Legal separation or divorce is frequently a matter of personal preference. Given that some people's religious or personal convictions forbid divorce, legal separation enables them to maintain their marriage while still being able to lead independent lives.

Key Terms

  • Annulment: The nullification of marriage in lawful proceedings in which the wedding is said null and void as though it never happened.
  • Mediation: An alternative to the tribunal procedure, mediation is performed by a third party to assist parties in reaching an understanding of problems between them. A negotiator will not recommend or inflict a compromise but rather promote mutual understanding.
  • Affidavit: A documented statement of evidence that must either be sworn on a sacred text or proved true.
  • Discovery: A lawful proceeding's data exchange process, including proposals for documents and accepting affidavits.


Different legal separations come in different forms. For instance, a trial separation is an informal split during which you live apart to decide whether you want to separate or get divorced. And when facing difficulties in their marriage, many couples act this way.

And while there is no requirement for a court order for anyone to separate at any moment for whatever duration they choose, it is better to consult our expert attorneys at Contracts Counsel for a seamless and amicable separation.

ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.

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