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Are there legal protections for couples not yet ready to divorce?

Are there reasons why a couple might seek a separation, as an alternative or even an addition to their divorce filing? Is legal separation even an option in Massachusetts?

Our firm focuses on a full spectrum of family law matters, including child support and divorce. While the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation's website confirms that there is not a specific option for legal separation under state law, there are options available that might achieve a comparable outcome for couples.

Specifically, couples that want to live apart but not divorce might request a judgment of separate support from a court. For spouses who believe that reconciliation might be possible down the road, seeking a judgment of separation might provide the necessary breathing room.

The process, begun by filing a complaint for separate support, can legally define matters of spousal and child support, custody and visitation. Notably, the parties can also reach an agreement themselves, and then submit that proposal to the court for approval. The judgment will be final and binding upon the parties. However, if life circumstances were to change, a complaint for modification could be filed with the court, requesting revisions in the terms of the judgment.

Another alternative to a separate support action might be a postnuptial agreement. That type of contract can cover property division and debt allocation issues, in addition to matters of support. However, it will be important for the parties to consult with an attorney when executing a postnuptial agreement. Without an attorney's help, such contracts might be more susceptible to challenge in the event of a divorce, perhaps alleging undue influence or other reasons the contract should not be enforced.

Source: FindLaw, "Legal Separation vs. Divorce," copyright 2015, Thomson Reuters

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