The process for legal separation is very similar to the divorce process. Many of the court documents that are filed are very similar to those filed in divorce with the exception that they refer to a “legal separation,” or sometimes more generally a “division of property and debts and determination of custody and support,” rather than “dissolution of marriage.”
For instance, in a divorce, one of the parties would begin the process by filing a Verified Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. For a legal separation, a Verified Petition for Legal Separation would be filed instead. Likewise, the legal separation would end with a Final Decree of Legal Separation rather than a Final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
Between the Petition and the Final Decree, the process will be similar as well. The parties will have to address many of the same issues such as an child custody, child support, division of income and expense, division of property and debt, spousal support, and so on. Each of these will be addressed in much the same vein as a divorce with the exception that some of the rulings are not permanent and last only so long as the legal separation.
The legal separation may continue indefinitely or it may terminate with a divorce or reconciliation of the parties. If a divorce is filed during the legal separation, the good news is that many if not most of the same rulings will remain in effect throughout the divorce proceeding unless there are grounds for modifying the prior court orders.
There are, on occasion, good reasons for a legal separation such as financial considerations, insurance, estate issues, and religious beliefs. Generally, however, one can see that a legal separation involves much the same process as a divorce and therefore much the same expense. These issues should be carefully considered prior to embarking on a legal separation.
Perhaps one saving grace of a legal separation is the possibility of lessened conflict. This may in fact keep the costs down to a degree because either party may end the legal separation process at will under the no-fault divorce rules of New Mexico by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This may keep the parties in check but, in turn, it may just as well push them toward a divorce.