Understanding the Consequences of a Couple’s Separation
Separations come in various forms. Some separations are short-lived, lasting only a few days or weeks, while others may endure for many years. Couples have the option to informally separate and arrange an agreement on their own terms. On the other hand, couples residing in Nevada can opt for a legal separation, also referred to as “separate maintenance actions.”
A Closer Look at Formal Separations or Maintenance Actions
To initiate a formal separation or maintenance action, one spouse must file the necessary paperwork with the court. Unlike divorce, spouses cannot file joint separate maintenance actions. In their petition for separate maintenance, they can request maintenance orders for the same issues typically addressed in a divorce, albeit with a few exceptions.
Under Nevada law, maintenance actions allow for the resolution of matters such as asset and debt division, child custody, child support, and alimony. However, certain limitations apply. For instance, a judge cannot issue a lump sum property or child support order as part of a maintenance action. Additionally, a maintenance order cannot force a couple to sell their marital home. These orders are meant to be temporary, and as a result, judges are prohibited from making separation orders that have long-term consequences.
Differentiating Between Divorce and Separation
Divorce brings a sense of finality that separation lacks. Once a couple is divorced, they are free to remarry, buy or sell property, divide retirement accounts, relocate, or engage in various other activities prohibited during a separation period. Essentially, separation acts as a temporary halt to one’s life.
Often, a maintenance order prohibits either spouse from disposing of or depleting marital assets. While a maintenance order permits the settlement of certain debts, Nevada law does not allow for lump sum alimony, child support, or property awards in temporary maintenance orders. The separation period may feel like a legal limbo, preventing couples from moving forward or backward.
Nevertheless, separation may offer some advantages over divorce for certain couples. For instance, couples facing issues with health insurance coverage may choose separation to allow a needy spouse to continue receiving benefits. Other couples may be ready for a separation but decide to delay divorce to accommodate their children’s completion of the school year or to wait for the housing market to recover.
Crafting Your Own Separation Agreement
Couples have the freedom to establish the terms of their separation. They can do this informally through a written agreement or request that their agreement becomes an official court order. In Nevada, court-recognized separation agreements are referred to as “maintenance orders.” These orders can address matters such as child custody, holiday visitation schedules, visitation exchanges, responsibility for credit card bills, each spouse’s rights to vehicles or the marital home, healthcare coverage, and any other pertinent issues specific to the case.
To formalize an informal agreement, couples need to submit their agreement, along with a petition and the required paperwork, to a judge for review. The judge may conduct a hearing, where both spouses have the opportunity to testify, present witnesses, and provide evidence. If the judge determines that the agreement is fair and serves the best interests of the children involved, it can become an official court order.
Impact of a Maintenance Order on Custody
The terms of a maintenance order do not bind a judge when deciding custody in a divorce. However, the maintenance order often serves as a blueprint for determining custody. If the children thrived during the separation period, it is highly likely that the judge will maintain the current custody arrangement. A separation period allows the judge to assess the viability of the custody arrangement. When it proves successful, the judge is more inclined to maintain the status quo.
Custody changes become more likely if either spouse’s circumstances have significantly altered since the separation. For example, a relocation plan or a demanding job involving extensive travel could warrant a change in custody. Moreover, during the final divorce hearing, presenting evidence that the existing custody arrangement failed to serve the child’s best interests or negatively impacted their academics and well-being can influence custody decisions.
The events that unfold during the separation period can have long-lasting implications for the divorce process. It is vital to understand your rights and obligations under a separation agreement. When in doubt, seeking the advice of a local family law attorney is a prudent course of action.
To learn more about legal separation in Nevada, visit Garrity Traina.