A legal separation is not a dissolution of marriage. In order to officially dissolve a marriage, you must go through the formal divorce process. If you originally file for a legal separation but later decide you would prefer a divorce, then you will need to convert your case into one for divorce. In Utah, you are able to convert a separation into divorce at any point in the legal process.
Even after you have finalized a legal separation, you are still eligible to switch it to a divorce case. Much of the process is the same as in any other divorce case, but the beginning steps somewhat vary.
1. Hire a Divorce Attorney
Hiring a trustworthy divorce attorney is the first step in moving from a legal separation to a divorce. Whether you work with them consistently or on a limited basis, this is an important decision.
To find the right attorney for your particular case, you may want to ask the following questions: “How long have you been practicing divorce law?”, “Have you ever had a case like mine?”, or “Knowing my situation, how would you proceed if I were to hire you?”
You should also ask about hourly rates and obtain an estimate of how much the process will cost. Ultimately, you should choose an attorney that puts your mind at ease about the divorce process.
2. Waiting Period
In order to get divorced in Utah, couples must meet certain residency requirements. You or your spouse must reside in one county in Utah for at least 30 days immediately before filing the divorce petition. This waiting period applies in the case of legal separation as well.
If the proceedings are still pending on your petition for a legal separation, and your spouse has not yet responded to your petition, you may file an amended petition to dissolve the marriage.
In this circumstance, your spouse will need to be served again. If a judgment of legal separation has already been obtained from the court and you later decide to get a divorce, you will not be able to amend the petition.
You will need to start over with a new case petitioning for a dissolution of marriage. In this case, the separation order will continue until the divorce is finalized. If it has been longer than one year since you filed for separation, you will need to pay the filing fee again when you file for divorce.
The rest of the divorce proceedings are generally the same as in any other divorce. In some cases, the process is actually smoother and faster because issues such as child support, child custody, spousal support, and division of assets have already been worked out.
However, there is still room for alteration in these areas. The court will look at the parties’ respective financial situations to determine whether or not any of the existing arrangements need to be amended. From there, you will be able to move from a legal separation to a divorce.