If you have been considering divorce and talking to your friends, you may have heard the term "legal separation" as a viable alternative. However, not every state recognizes legal separation. Instead, you may consider a separate maintenance decree. But what is a separate maintenance decree and is it right for you?

What Is a Separate Maintenance Decree?

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So, what is a separate maintenance decree? A separate maintenance decree, also called an Order of Separate Maintenance and Support, says that you are still married to your spouse and entitled to inheritance.

While the answer to what is a separate maintenance decree may sound like the opposite of divorce (you are still married to your spouse), there are similarities. Within the decree, there can be stipulations for spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation rights, and which parent has to leave the marital home. Further, there may be determinations regarding health insurance and the division and title transfer of personal property.

Why Do People Seek a Separate Maintenance Decree?

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While it is important to know what is a separate maintenance decree, there are still questions left unanswered. For example, why would people seek this option rather than divorce? One of the most common reasons a couple would stay married but live separately is religion. There are many religious groups that do not believe divorce is acceptable. Thus, they have a moral obligation to stay married even if they no longer live under the same roof.


Personal Preference and Insurance Coverage

Other Commonly Asked Questions About a Separate Maintenance Decree

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When you are considering the termination of your relationship with your partner, your head is probably spinning with questions about the unknown. Below, we reveal the answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding a separate maintenance decree.

When Is a Separate Maintenance Decree Terminated?

Can a Separate Maintenance Decree Be Modified?

How Do I File for a Separate Maintenance Decree in the First Place?

Difference Between a Separate Maintenance Decree and Required Separation

How to Respond When Served a Separate Maintenance Decree

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When you have been served a complaint for a separate maintenance decree, a motion for temporary relief, a notice, and a court summons, you have 30 days to respond in writing. Whether you agree or disagree with the terms in the complaint and motion, you must respond in writing. Oral agreements will not be accepted in court.

You may be in a state of shock, but it is important to read all the documentation immediately. Carefully review every point your spouse has made and take notes on any detail you wish to dispute. Remember, any assertions made by your spouse in these official court documents will be treated as facts by the court if you do not contest them. The packet you receive should include a blank form that allows you to provide your side of the story and correct any errors before your court date. The judge will read both parties' accounts and give you the opportunity to talk.

Prepare Your Written Response

Add to your calendar the time and date of your scheduled court appearance. The details of your hearing will be printed on your copy of the papers. Remember, the judge needs time to read both sides of the story, so do not delay in submitting your response. Preparing your response is fairly simple because each family court will have a preferred format. The more specific the court's requirements, the easier it will be to draft your response.

Write in a clear, concise manner so the judge can fully and easily understand your version of events. Your introduction should include who you are, whether you have representation or are filing on your own, and if you dispute any of your spouse's assertions. Then, delineate which of your spouse's points you do not dispute. Finally, add a paragraph indicating each claim filed by your spouse you wish to dispute. You can briefly argue your case here or wait for your hearing to discuss your points of contention.

The Bottom Line

To answer the question, what is a separate maintenance decree is simple. It is an alternative to divorce where a married couple remains legally married but live in separate residences. These couples can file joint tax returns, are entitled to inheritance, and can still be covered under the other spouse's health insurance policy. However, there are several similarities to divorce. A family court judge hears your case and determines who leaves the marital home, who pays child support, and orders other declarations.

A separate maintenance decree is sought for many reasons. For example, many people have religious issues with divorce. Others are not financially or emotionally ready to go through a divorce. A married couple who has fallen out of love may decide they should stay married and live in separate homes until their children are old enough to handle them being divorced. These are just a few reasons.
 If you are wondering what is a separate maintenance decree because you are considering an alternative to divorce, speak to a local lawyer specializing in family law to help you understand your options and discover which is best for you and your unique situation.

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