Legal Separation

A legal separation occurs when spouses live in separate residences but do not technically divorce. It is a legal agreement or court order that has all of the same legal ramifications of a divorce, except for the fact that the couple is still technically married, so neither party can legally remarry. Often, a couple will create a separation agreement as a precursor to their divorce decree in order to ease the transition of the divorce and simplify the process. Couples who do create a separation agreement should be careful to clearly state what they intend to happen to the agreement should they eventually get divorced. A separation agreement that does not explicitly state that it supposed to terminate with a divorce decree, or survive the decree and be incorporated into it, could later be used to challenge an otherwise valid divorce settlement.

Marriage Annulment

An annulment is a retroactive judgment by a court that a marriage was in fact never legally valid. This should not be confused with a religious annulment, which has no legal effect. Traditional grounds for annulling a marriage are incest, bigamy, fraud, duress, and incompetence (meaning the parties did not have the appropriate age or mental status to consent to the marriage contract, not that the other was an incompetent spouse). Many states make a distinction between marriages that are void automatically, and those that are merely voidable, if one of the parties chooses to do so. Void marriages are marriages that are illegal for public policy reasons, and cannot exist even if both parties wish it. Incestuous and same-sex marriages are common examples. Voidable marriages, on the other hand, were not legally valid at the time of marriage, but are only annulled if one or both of the parties later request it. For instance, a marriage involving an underage couple is voidable if one party requests it, but can continue legally once they are both of age.