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What is legal separation in the UK?

By , on Monday August 14, 2023 at 2:28 pm

There are many reasons why a couple may choose a legal separation as opposed to applying for a divorce or civil partnership dissolution. Whether for religious or cultural reasons, or because a couple have been married or in a civil partnership for less than a year, a legal separation is often seen as a viable alternative.

An informal separation has the potential to cause significant disruption and lead to disputes over various issues, including the division of joint assets, household bills and possessions further down the line. Filing for a legal separation (also known as a judicial separation) can remedy these potential complications. A legal separation can ensure that a couple has a formal arrangement in place for their finances, reducing the potential for disputes.

Legal separation in the UK is something that our expert family law solicitors are able to provide comprehensive support and guidance on.

What does legal separation mean?

A legal separation will allow you and your former partner to separate from one another without formally ending your marriage or civil partnership. Applying for a legal separation will not prevent you from applying for a divorce or dissolution at a later date.

Importantly, a legal separation provides the court with the power to make the same financial orders as it would be able to on a divorce, except for the ability to make a pension sharing order.

What is the difference between a legal separation and divorce?

The primary difference between a legal separation and a divorce is the fact that, unlike divorce, a legal separation does not end the marriage. After successfully applying for a legal separation, you may live apart from your former partner, but you will still be a married couple.

The application process for legal separation and divorce also differs in that the process for legal separation is generally shorter and simpler.

A legal separation can also be sought at any time. You do not have to wait until you have been married for a year.

How do you get a legal separation?

You can make a sole or joint application for legal separation depending on your circumstances. You need to send a judicial separation application to the court along with the court fee of £365.

How long does a legal separation take?

If a legal separation application is promptly submitted and the courts are satisfied with the information that has been provided, it will normally take between seven to ten months to process from start to finish.

What are the disadvantages of legal separation?

Legal separation is unlikely to be the right solution for every couple. There are several potential disadvantages which highlight how important it is to seek specialist legal advice before you proceed to submit a legal separation application.

One immediate disadvantage that many couples will need to overcome is the fact that you will remain married after the legal separation has been granted. While this can be useful if you think there is still a possibility of reconciliation, you will not be able to remarry unless you obtain a full divorce.

There are separate court fees for divorce or dissolutions, and you will still need to go through the divorce or dissolution process. A divorce application currently costs £593.

What is a separation agreement?

A separation agreement (also known as a deed of separation) is a comprehensive document which clarifies exactly what both parties in a relationship will be entitled to and what arrangements have been made.

The purpose of a separation agreement is to ensure that both parties agree on what should happen to their assets during any future divorce or dissolution proceedings, reducing the potential for costly disputes and litigation.

When creating and signing a separation agreement, both parties must provide full financial disclosure, along with documentary evidence of their assets and liabilities. This will prevent any complications further down the line and increases the probability that the courts will not modify the agreement when making a financial order.

In every case, it is essential that a separation agreement is drafted by a qualified family law solicitor to ensure that it is fit for purpose and is an accurate reflection of your current circumstances and the arrangements you would like to be made.

Is a separation agreement legally binding?

Separation agreements are not official court orders, which means they are not strictly legally binding in their own right. That said, if a separation agreement has been properly drawn up and full disclosure was provided, the court is likely to seriously consider its terms.

Many couples draft separation agreements with the view that they will be turned into a consent order if/when the divorce or dissolution process begins further down the line. Consent orders are legally binding.

For more on separation agreements, visit our blog on Separation Agreements: Are they legally binding?

Do I need a separation agreement?

While separation agreements are not compulsory, they are vital where couples need to agree and confirm their financial arrangements with their former partner.

Having a written record of your agreements is strongly advised, as it can help to reduce the potential for any disruption during future divorce proceedings and allows you to clearly understand your current position.

While making an informal or verbal agreement with your former partner may seem like the most convenient approach, this could quickly backfire in the future. A properly drafted agreement ensures clarity and provides safeguards in case of any future disagreements. It also makes it more likely that the court will take the agreement into account if disputes occur.

Our legal separation solicitors are here for you

For tailored advice on your situation and whether a legal separation agreement is right for you and your situation, our team is here to help.

We recognise that legal separations and separation agreements can be sensitive issues, with many complexities to consider. That is why we are on hand to provide straightforward guidance that helps you to clearly understand your position.

For a free 30-minute initial chat with one of our legal separation solicitors, call Woolley & Co on 0800 321 3832 or complete our online form.

Our legal separation solicitors also offer a detailed case assessment service for £500 plus VAT. This includes an opportunity to discuss your case with an experienced solicitor and receive advice on the options available to you. You can find out more about this here.

Rebecca Franklin
Divorce lawyer Birmingham

Blog Author - Rebecca Franklin

Rebecca FranklinRebecca Franklin

Rebecca is a divorce and family lawyer based in Birmingham.


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