A separation can put you in limbo. During a marriage, you will spend marital assets and income on your children. After a divorce, a judge may order the higher-earning parent to pay child support to the lower-earning parent, depending upon the parenting time arrangement.
But when you live separately before your divorce, you remain married. You can spend marital assets and income until you file for divorce or legal separation. But the problem is access. After you separate from your spouse, you might not have access to the money you need to pay your child’s expenses.
Here are some ways you can handle child-related expenses after a separation.
Supporting Your Child
Every parent has a legal and ethical obligation to financially support their children. Whether married, separated, legally separated, divorced, or single, you must pay reasonable expenses related to meeting your child’s needs.
Some expenses you must pay include:
- Medical and dental care
Expenses that would normally be considered non-essential include:
- Extracurricular activities
You will incur both types of expenses when raising your child. But the law only looks at reasonable and necessary expenses when awarding child support.
What Is Separation?
Separation happens when you and your spouse do not live together. You and your child custody lawyer do not need to file any legal paperwork for you to separate. You or your spouse just need to move out of the family home.
Separation does not confer any rights, such as the right to child support. And it does not change your marital status. You remain legally married even if you and your spouse live separately.
You do not need to separate before filing for a divorce or legal separation. But most couples separate because living together during a divorce or legal separation proceeding could be awkward and stressful.
Differences Between Separation and Legal Separation
In Minnesota, a separation is not the same as a legal separation. Separation refers to the spouses living apart. Legal separations refer to the untangling of legal rights and other responsibilities of their marriage accomplished through the legal process. In both cases, the spouses remain married.
But in a legal separation, your divorce lawyer files a petition for legal separation. A court distinguishes the spouses’ legal rights so they can live as legally distinct people rather than a married couple.
In effect, legal separation resolves the same issues as divorce. But in a legal separation, the spouses remain married, whereas, in a divorce, the court terminates the marriage.
Handling Child-Related Expenses After Separating
If you live apart from your spouse, you cannot count on your spouse to pay child-related expenses. This is particularly true if your children live with you and you pay for their daily needs.
You have three options for handling child-related expenses:
Use Marital Assets and Income
Since you remain married during a separation, your income and any property acquired during the marriage belong to you as part of a married couple. You can pay for child-related expenses from a joint account with your spouse. You can also use joint credit cards for child-related expenses.
You should not sell jointly held assets. But you might be able to sell your share of a jointly-owned piece of property without your spouse’s agreement, depending on how that piece of property is held.
Use Separate Assets and Property
Strictly speaking, if you use your salary earned during a separation to pay child expenses, you are using marital property. Everything you earn during the marriage belongs to the marital estate.
But if you use assets you owned before the marriage, you are using separate property. Anything you owned before the marriage likely remains your property after the marriage. So you could pay child expenses by selling a car or house you bought before you got married. This sale would not require your spouse’s approval since the property never belonged to the marriage. However, it would also mean your spouse is not contributing to the expenses of the children and you are spending down your own assets.
File for a Legal Separation
If you file for a legal separation, a judge can issue a child support order. This order usually requires the higher-earning parent to pay child support to the lower-earning parent. You can use these child support payments to pay child expenses.
File for a Divorce
You can also file for a divorce. A judge can issue a child support order during the divorce. In choosing between a legal separation and a divorce, you will need to weigh the benefits of remaining married against the benefits of ending the marriage.
For example, if you have reasons to stay married, you would lean toward legal separation. But if you want to remarry, you would lean toward divorce.
Speak to a Child Custody Lawyer
During your separation, you need to support your children. To learn about your options and determine which works best for your situation, contact Johnson Turner Legal to book a Quick Guidance Call.