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When was I separated from my spouse and does it matter?

When one is getting married, the question they invariably end up answering the most is "how did you know your spouse was the one?" and when one is getting divorced, the most asked question is "how did you know your marriage was over?". It helps a divorcing individual get through the process as well by drawing a line between their former life and the life they are about to embark upon. Emotionally, it can be part of the healing process. It might surprise Louisiana residents to know that this proverbial line in the sand is an important part of the divorce process as well.

Simply put, the date of separation is the date the couple is no longer a married couple. However, the calculation of this date differs from state to state-some may consider the date of separation as the date that one spouse informed the other of their intention to get a divorce. It could even be the date one spouse moved out of the house or started living in a separate portion of the same house. Since there can be confusions about these dates-one spouse could say they didn't know the intention to get a divorce was serious or that they were going through a trial separation, not a final one, other states prefer the legal process to determine the date of separation. They consider the date the divorce papers were filed or the separation agreement was signed as the date of separation.

Why is this important? Suppose, after separating, one spouse racks up a huge credit card bill. If the couple is still considered married, then they both have to divide the debt because it is marital property. However, if the debt is incurred after the date of separation, then it is not divided. The same thing goes for property acquired after the date of separation-it is considered separate property and not marital property. Therefore, the date of separation is an important indicator of date up to which property will be comingled. Additionally, it is also important for property valuation purposes-many states value assets as of the date of separation.

Though it may seem like a small decision at the time, the date of separation can have important legal consequences on the divorce process. It is beneficial then to consult an experienced attorney for help on what principle applies in one's state and how to go about determining the date of separation.

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