There are two options available to couples who have decided not to continue living together as a married couple: filing for dissolution of the marriage or filing for legal separation. In both types of cases, the court has the ability to divide the debts of the parties, award assets to the parties, order child support, order spousal maintenance and to determine a parenting plan. The primary difference between the two cases is the status of the marriage at the conclusion of the case. At the conclusion of a dissolution proceeding the parties are divorced and free to remarry but at the conclusion of a legal separation the parties remain married. A legal separation can be converted into a dissolution action, but the parties must wait six months prior to converting the action.
The statutes require a 90 day waiting period between the date of the filing of the case to the soonest date that the case can be finalized. If the case is not resolved within the 90 day statutory waiting period, the court will assign the parties a trial date in which they can resolve their dispute. In Benton and Franklin Counties the court generally sets the trial to occur nine months after the initiation of the action.
There are some circumstances where the court can have authority to divide property and liabilities of unmarried persons if the court finds that the parties engaged in an intimate committed relationship. An intimate committed relationship exists when parties engage in continuous, exclusive co-habitation during the relationship, or living in the same home as a couple for a lengthy period of time, pool their resources and services for joint projects during the relationship and the intent of the parties is to be in a marriage-like relationship and each party enjoys the benefit of the relationship. If the court finds that such a relationship exists, the court can divide the property and liabilities of the parties, though the division may be different than the division one would expect in a dissolution or legal separation.