Can you get married to someone else while you're separated?
It’s not uncommon for two people to start dating during a separation. After all, a separation is really a formal step that is necessary before a divorce. Some relationships might progress rapidly, though, and there can be a certain desire to formalize them as quickly as possible. Rather than waiting for the court to get through with its work, you might stop and wonder whether it’s possible for you to go ahead and get married. The honest answer might not be what you want to hear, but it’s important that you’re aware of the reality of the situation.
The Simple Answer
If you’re looking for a very simple answer to this question, it’s simple – you can’t get married to someone else when you are separated. A separation is not the same thing as a divorce, and thus anyone attempting to get married would theoretically be committing the crime of bigamy when making an attempt. It’s possible to do this by mistake, of course, but it’s very important that you understand that you cannot be legally married to two people at the same time. As such, it may be important to discuss separation in greater detail.
What is Separation?
Legal separation is a very specific concept in the law. It is defined by three elements – that the parties are living apart, and that they are doing so due to a court order. This is the formalization of a living arrangement that many couples have either before a divorce or before reconciliation, and the involvement of each element is actually quite important. This is an agreement that must between the two parties, but it is more importantly not an agreement that brings a marriage to its end. As such, a separation’s elements must be looked at in order to understand it better.
The first element, living apart, is perhaps the least important of all the elements. It is theoretically possible – though tricky – in some states for the parties to be legally separated but to still be domiciled in the same household. It is also possible for two people to live at completely separate addresses and to lead totally separate lives while not having a legal separation. It is, however, this distance that tends to make other relationships very difficult. if you become involved with another person, it can certainly feel like your marriage is already over.
The second element, the court order, is somewhat more important. This makes the separation into a formal arrangement. In states that still have at-fault divorces, this arrangement does not take adultery off the table – those who date and have sexual relationships during the separation can still be divorced on those grounds. In other states, though, the separation agreement has no real bearing on whether or not you can get into a relationship. The legal agreement is often a precursor to divorce, especially in those states where cause is needed. An agreed-upon period of separation is often the only cause needed for a divorce in those states. Because the seperation is something that goes through the court, you must also assume that the state is aware of your marital status during the entire period of seperation.
The third element is the most important for this question, though. A separation is not a divorce. A divorce ends the legal union between two people. This not only leads to a division of assets and the necessity of custody agreements, but it also severs the legal bond between two people. When that bond is severed, either party is free to marry. In fact, that freedom is so important that neither former spouse has any legal grounds to stop the other party from marrying a person. While the separation is still in place, though, the marriage is still intact.
What to Do
If you’re looking to get married while still separated, it is important that you consult with an attorney to find out your state’s grounds for divorce. The last thing you want is to be accused of adultery and to have those grounds used against you in your divorce proceedings. Instead, it’s often best to try to move from a separation to finalizing the divorce. This can be difficult, but it is really the only way you’ll be able to move forward with your new wedding plans.
You cannot get married if you are already legally separated. Doing so would be against the law. Remember, a separation is not a divorce even if it feels like one. Before you become involved with another person, make sure you are aware of the impact that it might have on your current marriage and on your future divorce. It’s always better to be safe than to be sorry in these situations.