Entering into a marriage is often an important and difficult decision, but deciding whether to end a marriage can be just as difficult. Consequently, some spouses may choose to get legally separated instead of formally divorcing. Unfortunately, however, legal separation is not an option in Texas.
In other states, a legal separation allows the couple to remain married while living apart, and it is recognized by a court order. In Texas, a couple is either married or not married; there is not a classification between marriage and divorce like in the states that recognize legal separation. While legal separation is not recognized in Texas, spouses can still choose to separate informally.
There are many reasons why a couple would informally separate. Separation can provide emotional benefits by allowing the spouses time to attend marriage counseling or evaluate the relationship while not living under the same roof. Additionally, there are also potential financial benefits of informal separation like the ability to remain on the same health insurance plan. Finally, informal separation can also benefit couples who cannot formally divorce due to religious beliefs.
In Texas, there is no limit to the amount of time a couple can be informally separated. However, common-law marriage serves as an exception. A common-law marriage is an informal marriage that is recognized by the state whenever certain requirements are met. A couple is common-law married in Texas when they have lived together, and they have held themselves out to the public as spouses. For common-law marriages specifically, the couple must formally file divorce papers within two years after separating. However, as stated above, there is no time limit for a formally married couple’s separation.
Because Texas is a Community Property state, there are certain implications that an informal separation may have on a marriage. Community property includes any and all assets or debts that were acquired by either spouse during the duration of the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. Assets and debts that are a part of the community property are considered jointly owned or shared by each spouse equally. This can be an issue for informally separated couples because even when the couple is not living together, assets and debts obtained by either spouse during their separation become community property.
However, there is a legal process that will allow a separated couple to divide the community property while remaining married. Spouses looking to divide their community property can do so through a partition and exchange agreement. These agreements must be written and signed by both spouses to be valid. Depending on the terms of the agreement, this will separate assets and debts previously within the community property and prevent future assets or debts from becoming a part of the community property.
A partition and exchange agreement can be beneficial because it provides financial security to each spouse. Additionally, if the couple does decide to formally divorce, their assets have already been divided. However, once a partition and exchange agreement is filed, the couple’s assets do not become part of the community property again if the couple moves back in together.
There are additional paths that a couple can pursue to achieve similar outcomes to legal separation. If the couple is in the middle of a divorce proceeding, they can file for either a temporary order or a protective order. Additionally, if children are involved, the couple can file a Suit Affecting a Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). A SAPCR is a custody case that can be filed regardless of a divorce proceeding.
Each marriage is unique, and each spouse has their own specific needs. There is no clearly defined way to navigate a relationship. However, while it is important for each couple to do what is best for them, it is also important to be informed about possible outcomes that a divorce or separation could have on their future.