When a married couple chooses to end their relationship, they may decide to get a divorce. Some couples, however, may instead elect to legally separate. Legal separation still necessitates many of the same considerations involved in a divorce, such as how property will be divided, whether one spouse will need support from the other, who will have primary custody of any children and the visitation schedule the parents will follow.
Whether a couple divorces or legally separates, emotions generally run pretty high, sometimes involving significant conflict. Even if it might not seem possible to negotiate an agreement that is workable for both spouses, mediation can provide a way through which couples can reach an agreement regarding all of the important issues affecting them.
Mediation involves a mediator helping couples reach an agreement between them, though the mediator does not make a decision in a case. In the event the separating or divorcing couple is able to come to an agreement, the mediator will then prepare a memorandum of understanding that memorializes the terms of the agreement. That memorandum is then filed by the parties with the court, and the court will treat it as part of the court's orders in the case.
Although coming to an agreement regarding child custody and visitation, property division and spousal maintenance may seem daunting, people often find that being able to work toward such an agreement will leave both spouses with greater satisfaction. A mediated settlement allows spouses to maintain a degree of control over the important decisions affecting them, rather than throwing their case to the will and judgment of the court. Mediation may also help keep costs lower than the expenses associated with litigating the case through the court in contested hearings.
Source: FindLaw, "Legal Separation vs. Divorce," Accessed Jan. 22, 2015