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Legal separation (sometimes "judicial separation", "separate maintenance", "divorce a mensa et thoro", or "divorce from bed-and-board") is a legal process by which a married couple may formalize a de facto separation while remaining legally married. A legal separation is granted in the form of a court order, which can be in the form of a legally-binding consent decree. The most common reason for filing with the courts for a legal separation is to make interim financial arangements for the two of them, such as deciding which one will pay which bills, possess which property, and whether one of them shall pay the other temporary financial support. These financial arrangements are actually what the term "separate maintenance" refers to, and "separate maintenance" is not a synonym for "legal separation".

Furthermore, in cases where the couple has a child or children, the court order of legal separation often makes temporary arrangements for the care, custody, and financial support of the children ("for the time being"). Thus, part of the court order is a document in child custody. Some couples, especially in past times, might have obtained a legal separation as an alternative to a divorce, based on moral or religious objections to divorce, and intend to abide by the legal separation permanently.

Legal separation does not automatically lead to divorce. The couple might reconcile, in which case they do not have to do anything in order to continue their marriage. If the two do not reconcile, and they wish to proceed with a divorce, they must file for divorce explicitly.

A mensa et thoro Separation

A mensa et thoro is a Latin phrase which means "from table and bed", although it is often translated as "from bed and board". Separation a mensa et thoro is essentially a separation that is sanctioned by a court order, meaning that the spouses may legally live apart, but they are still legally married. The legitimacy of any future child born to the couple remains intact, and also the spouses may not legally remarry in any way. (As curious as it might sound, some couples do the necessary acts to have another child, even though they are legally separated.) This type of divorce allows the couple to live apart from each othe without concerns about being taken to court for "desertion". (In many, many jurisdictions, provable "desertion" is legal grounds for a divorce.)

There are several reasons why a couple might seek a mensa et thoro separation. In some legal jurisdictions, inclusing entire countries, it can be difficult to get a full and final divorce, but if the spouses are already separated a mensa et thoro for an extended period of time (for example, three years), the court may decide to grant a full and final divorce. When the requirements of burden of proof for a divorce are difficult to meet, in most jurisdictions, an a mensa et thoro ruling assures the couple a slot in the court's schedule whenever they file for a full divorce, by showing that they were both serious about their separation.

Sometimes, an a mensa et thoro separation is used when one partner is said to be emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive, keeping the marriage in effect while the two spouses are physically separated. This physical separation may hypothetically give the two of them a chance to work out the problems in their relationship, while residing in legally-sanctioned separate dwellings. Spouses may also request an a mensa et thoro separation to protect themselves from accusations of desertion or abandonment - such as in cases where one must depart from the other for an extended period of time.

In the United States

In the United States of Americamarker, issues that can be addressed in a separation agreement include division of assets and debts, child custody and support, child visitation schedules, support payments from one to the other, if necessary and legally justified, and so forth. All laws and regulations concerning separation, divorce, and child custody in the United States are Almost all states except Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas recognize a legal documentation of separation.

Other countries

In some entire countries and in some jurisdictions - such as in Italy - an extended period of legal separation (for example, three years or five years) is required before a decree of full and divorce can be issued. This period of legal separation can be considered to be a part of the divorce procedure in some countries or some jurisdictiona.

It needs to be noted that in some countries the laws for marriage, separation, and divorce vary from state-to-state, or province-to-province, or Bundesland-to-Bundesland (elements of Federal republics). Also, some countries, such as Russiamarker have large autonymous regions that make a lot of their own laws.

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