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The Differences between Divorce and Legal Separation in Colorado

There are a few differences between divorce and legal separation in Colorado. If you are thinking about pursuing a legal separation rather than a divorce (dissolution of marriage), it is important to understand that you will still need to perform all the requirements of a dissolution of marriage. This includes producing your financial disclosures, attending hearings, preparing a parenting plan, and either paying or receiving child support or spousal maintenance. Furthermore, at the end of the legal separation proceeding, you will still have to settle the case or attend a permanent orders hearing, in which the judge will divide the marital assets and liabilities, make a finding as to support, determine parenting time and decision-making, and determine attorney’s fees and costs.

At the end of the proceedings, you will be issued a Decree of Legal Separation. In order to be divorced, you will then have to convert the Decree of Legal Separation into a Decree of Dissolution after 182 days have elapsed. You must remain legally separated for those six months after the decree was issued.

The health insurance policies that you had prior to the decree will remain in effect, unless otherwise agreed. So many individuals make the choice to be legally separated to maintain the health insurance policy, especially if that policy is paid by the other spouse’s employer. This also helps the spouse who is paying maintenance, as it may reduce or eliminate the need for maintenance. Also, if you are legally separated, you may continue to jointly file your taxes or file married but separate, which can increase the refund or reduce the tax liability in some circumstances. Finally, if you are legally separated rather than divorced, the estate and life insurance policies may remain as they were prior to the decree, especially if you or your spouse do not have an estate plan or have failed to designate beneficiaries. In this scenario, those items will be distributed through intestate succession at death. If you are legally separated and not divorced, the person who claims the right to your assets through intestate succession is most often your spouse (adult children may take a percentage, depending on the state law at the time of death).

For more information on divorce or legal separation, please contact the Colorado family law attorneys at Feldmann & Nagel, LLC.