What is a Legal Separation?

As specialists in family law the team at Higgins Miller are used to dealing with people going through extremely stressful life-experiences. This includes dealing with matters such as adoption, wills and probate and children disputes. In all cases we work extremely closely with our clients, offering support and empathy as well as a complete grasp of the legal ramifications of any situation. This is what we promise to anyone who comes to us seeking help and advice with a legal separation.

A legal separation is a process which is similar to a divorce in many ways without being exactly the same. Unlike divorce, it is a process which is also open to couples who are in a civil partnership or who have been cohabiting without legally formalising the relationship. Whereas many couples in this position choose to create a separation agreement in order to have the details of their separation set out in writing and agreed by both parties, a legal separation is a legally binding arrangement which involves the courts and officially separates a couple without actually ending any marriage. 

When a couple have been together for any length of time the details of their life become intertwined on many levels. As well as the emotional attachments involved, couples living together almost invariably end up sharing the responsibility for household bills and rent or mortgage payments, as well as often owing property together – from houses to cars and furniture – and sharing debts such as loans and assets like shares, savings and insurance policies. When a relationship ends it is in the interests of both parties to ensure that these factors are disentangled as fairly as possible, and when a couple aren’t married, or don’t yet want to take the step of filing for divorce, a legal separation can offer this certainty. 

A legal separation enables a couple to formally separate without a marriage actually ending, or in cases where there is no marriage to end. Unlike a divorce, a legal separation doesn’t involve the party filing having to demonstrate that the relationship has broken down irretrievably. The grounds for separation still have to be included on any application, however, and the options are the same as those for a divorce: 

  • Unreasonable 
  • Adultery 
  • Separation for two years if both parties consent
  • Separation for five years without the consent of both parties
  • Desertion    

In contrast to a divorce, however, a legal separation can be granted if a couple have been together for less than a year. If your relationship has reached the point at which a legal separation seems appropriate it’s strongly advised that each party seeks independent legal advice. Although a legal separation is different from a separation agreement – in that it involves the court and is legally binding – many of the details which the couple in question would be advised to reach an agreement on remain the same. These include whether a shared home will be sold and the revenue divided or one party will continue living there, the residence and contact arrangement made for any children, how the payment of bills, rent and any mortgage will be divided, who has to deal with debts such as credit cards and loans and how other assets will be divided. Combined with a legal separation, an agreement of this kind will formalise the end of any relationship and create a framework for moving forward. If both parties provide full disclosure of their finances and have taken independent legal advice then there is every chance that a court will uphold the details of an agreement in the future. 

Why opt for a legal separation?

If you’re not married than a legal separation is the obvious means of marking the end of a relationship in a formal manner. If you are married it may still be an option if you want to delay divorce for a while, if religious beliefs forbid divorce or if the marriage is less than a year old. In all cases, the process involves filing Form D8, a judicial separation petition, with the court. If you are married or in a civil relationship you’ll also have to send a copy of the relevant certificate to the court, as well as three copies of Form D8, with another copy being kept for your own records. Taking legal advice to ensure that the form has been completed correctly will maximise the chances of it being upheld if any disagreement ever arises between the parties. If the relationship is a marriage, then it will still be possible to file for an actual divorce at a later date, after which the marriage will be over and both parties will be free to remarry. 


If you want to find out more about legal separation or other aspects of relationships ending please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected] We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. This initial meeting can ensure that you understand why social services have made contact and can feel able to move forward with confidence. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.

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October 23, 2020

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