Legal Separation in Texas: What You Need to Know

If you want a legal separation in Texas, you’ll unfortunately find no legal statutes or family laws to help. Although there are numerous proven benefits to legal separations, Texas is one of the handful of states that doesn’t officially recognize the process. In the eyes of the law, Texas couples who are unhappy with their marriage can only separate through a legal and absolute divorce.

If you’re not ready for that big of a step, though, you do still have options.

Struggling couples in the San Antonio area can separate from their spouse without officially divorcing and still put measures in place to protect themselves and set boundaries. With the help of an experienced divorce attorney, you can establish parameters for:

  • Finances.
  • The family home.
  • Parental rights.
  • Child support.

What Is Legal Separation?

In states that recognize it, legal separation is a way to disconnect financially and live separately from your spouse without divorcing. This means that the courts help couples decide on rights and responsibilities, usually for a fixed timeframe of separation, without formally and legally ending the marriage.

Many statistics and studies have shown that these separations lead to fewer and more cordial divorces. Couples can spend some time apart, while remaining legally married, to reflect and decide what they really want. It’s like a decompression period without the weight of a final divorce. For those with religious beliefs, it allows them to remain married and honor their values while still having some much-needed time apart. It’s also a way for spouses to retain certain benefits, such as health insurance and disability income, without having to maintain a married lifestyle.

Although Texas doesn’t recognize legal separations, a divorce attorney can still help you draft helpful documents and negotiate agreements that will allow you to live separately while maintaining your legal marriage. In other words, you can have the benefits of a legal separation, even without the help of Texas courts.

Informal Separations

Your first option is an informal separation. For this, not even an attorney is necessary. If you and your spouse both agree that some time and space are needed, you can choose to informally separate and simply live apart for a while.

Many couples are able to navigate this process without intervention, especially if they’re both committed to healing the marriage or dissolving the relationship amicably. This is often a time for counseling and therapy, where both parties are working on their individual issues, as well as problems within the marriage. You may choose to handle finances, debts, bills, and parenting however you wish, without attorney or legal involvement.

Our only caution here is to remember that this option is void of any legal documentation, so the parties must agree, work together, and trust each other. Informal separations are not recommended for couples who have serious trust issues or who are not fully committed to working things out harmoniously. If you really need a time of separation, though, without the legal hassles, this is a valid option.

Contractual Separations

Almost anything in Texas can be negotiated and enforced with a legally binding contract (with exceptions, of course, such as contracts that involve illegal activities). So, even though the Bexar County courts don’t specifically have an official method for helping couples with a legal separation, you can still create your own by entering into a contract with your spouse.

For couples with deeper, more complex issues or who aren’t sure they’ll be able to reconcile, a contractual separation is a suitable choice. The separation has legal documentation supporting it to make the division of assets and benefits more official, also rendering it a valid option for couples who wish to stay legally married for financial reasons but are sure they want to live separately.

Because these contracts are not facilitated by a family law judge, it’s imperative that you hire an experienced divorce attorney for help. Although you’re not seeking a divorce in San Antonio, Texas, a divorce attorney will understand the logistics of dividing property, negotiating finances, and settling parental rights in a way that is compliant with Texas laws.

A contractual separation is similar to a marital, prenuptial, or postnuptial agreement. It’s simply a private contract, agreed upon and signed by both parties. A family judge won’t review the contract or issue any formal ruling. However, if either party violates the terms of the agreement, the other will have legal remedies in the local civil courts for a breach of contract.

Your contractual separation agreement should cover matters such as:

  • Spousal support and alimony payments.
  • Child support, custody, and parental rights.
  • Division of finances and debts.
  • Division of assets and property.
  • Estate planning.
  • Future wages.

Partition and Exchange Agreement

Texas is a community property state, which means that any property obtained during the marriage becomes joint, or community, property, belonging to both spouses equally. If you wish to legally divide property or assets while remaining married, you must formally transfer the community property to one spouse through a partition and exchange agreement. This will create a legally recognized separation of any finances or property that are specifically listed in the agreement.

Once the agreement is agreed to and signed by both parties, it must be recorded in the county where the couple last lived together, as well as the county where the property is located.

Voluntary Parenting Plans vs. Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship

For couples with children, parenting matters are most essential. Without an official court ruling, the parents need to amicably negotiate parenting matters in a way that benefits the children. There are two ways to go about that.

First, couples can simply enter a voluntary parenting plan, whereby they negotiate and agree to matters relating to the children. With the help of a divorce attorney, you can decide upon support, visitation, and custody, as well as any other issues specific to the family. All negotiations will be solidified in a written agreement.

If the couple wishes to have a more formal agreement, they can seek a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. Unlike other marital matters in the separation, this is a court-ordered and facilitated agreement that will legally define each spouse’s rights and responsibilities relating to the children. Known as SAPCR orders, your attorney can help you facilitate this agreement with the courts to ensure that the agreement is fair and aligns with the family’s needs and values.

Legal Separation in San Antonio, Texas — How a Divorce Attorney Can Help

Legal separations may not be recognized in Texas, but there are still many ways to legally divide assets, property, and parental responsibilities while keeping the marriage legally intact.

Because there are no court orders or family law judges to help, though, an experienced divorce and family attorney is essential to ensuring fair negotiations and legally compliant agreements.

You can have all the benefits of a legal separation and the assurance that boundaries and protections are properly in place.

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