Frequently Asked Questions:
Legal Separation


Quick answers about divorce’s legal alternative.

Legal separation is often the first decision separating spouses can agree on. However, separation agreements demand a trained, qualified review of the legal language with carefully drafted terms and accurate reflections of intentions on both sides. The right knowledge of the pros and cons of legal separation and divorce can help you select the best option for you.

You deserve to know the facts. For quick answers to common questions about legal separation, explore our FAQs below or call us for a free and confidential consultation. Our divorce attorneys serve Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island with the knowledge, experience, and trust to give you the best advice.

How can I obtain a legal separation?

There are two ways to become legally separated from your spouse:

  1. You and your spouse enter into a Separation Agreement. The agreement must contain certain language and be signed and acknowledged in a certain way in order to qualify as a Separation Agreement. You should not try to prepare your own Separation Agreement. The agreement must be carefully drafted so that it accurately reflects your intentions and is enforceable in the future. Please refer to the article by Clifford Petroske entitled Only One Bite at the Apple: The Nature of Settlement Agreements for a thorough discussion of settlement agreements.
  2. You obtain a Judgment of Separation. An action for separation proceeds in very much the same way as an action for divorce. Please see the Divorce FAQ’s for answers to questions regarding litigation procedure.

What are the grounds for separation in New York?

As in divorce, New York law requires that you have specific grounds to obtain a judgment of separation. The grounds for separation are:

  1. cruel and inhuman treatment
  2. abandonment
  3. failure to provide support
  4. adultery
  5. imprisonment

What can I do if my spouse does not abide the terms of our Separation Agreement?

A Separation Agreement is a contract, and it is enforceable in court just like any other contract. Often, a money judgment will be sought and entered against your spouse. At your consultation, we will determine the best way to proceed depending on which terms of the agreement your spouse has failed to obey.

What are the reasons to seek a legal separation instead of a divorce?

Many people want a legal separation because they have hopes of reconciliation and don’t want to end their marriage. Others enter into a separation agreement so that one spouse can remain covered under the other spouse’s health insurance policy. Since many medical plans allow coverage for spouses who remain married but are legally separated, in some cases using a legal separation instead of a divorce can save money by keeping both spouses on one medical plan.

What disadvantages are there to being legally separated, but still married?

There are numerous disadvantages to a legal separation, but the primary problem is enforcement. Divorce judgments are far more easily and effectively enforced than separation agreements standing alone. A judgment of divorce can be readily enforced by a relatively quick application to the court that issued it. Available remedies include contempt of court, which results in a fine and/or imprisonment; sequestration, by which the defaulting spouse must give up his accounts or other property as security for the payment of an obligation in the future; a money judgment, which can be enforced by restraint and/or seizure of accounts and other assets, as well as license forfeiture and income deduction order, to name a few. On the other hand, to enforce a separation agreement a whole separate lawsuit must be brought in which the breach is first proved at a full trial. Because a trial is involved, delays of several months or more can occur while the pleading and disclosure phases are completed. Assuming that the trial is successful, the court can only provide limited relief in the form of specific performance or an award of damages. If specific performance is granted, the court makes an order directing that the defaulting party do what the contract said they were supposed to do in the first place. If the defaulting party does not make the required performance, then the aggrieved spouse can employ the same remedies that are available to enforce a divorce judgment. In other words, the aggrieved spouse is back in the same place he/she would have been if he/she had simply started with a divorce judgment in the first place. Of course, the other remedy available for a separation agreement violation – getting a money judgment to compensate for contract damages — is readily enforceable, but it still takes longer to get such a money judgment than it would take if the defaulting spouse had violated a divorce judgment, instead of violating a separation agreement. Also, the number of situations in which a money judgment is the appropriate enforcement tool are limited. It works well, for example, if there is a particular asset that was supposed to be transferred but was not, but it does not work well with an ongoing obligation to pay child support or maintenance which would need a new money judgment each additional week that the defaulting spouse misses a payment.

How do I decide what is best for me?

After a thorough consultation with an experienced divorce attorney you will have a clear idea of what is best for you. In some cases, separation agreements are used to settle state Supreme Court divorce cases, with the understanding that collateral court orders can be obtained from the Family Court to help implement the support features of the separation agreement. Since every case is different, the option of a separation agreement can provide needed flexibility to help settle your divorce.

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When facing a divorce, child custody, or child support case, you deserve a lawyer who will listen to your concerns and take the time to explain your options, and who has the knowledge and experience to give you the best advice.

The best way to identify whether a Long Island divorce lawyer is right for you is to meet for an initial consultation. At Petroske Riezenman & Meyers, we are pleased to offer potential clients a free, confidential consultation where they can learn more about our experience and discuss their legal dispute. We can also offer our preliminary assessment about how the dispute will likely turn out as well as what evidence you will need for a favorable outcome.

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Why Choose Petroske Riezenman & Meyers

There are many Long Island attorneys who will promise to aggressively represent your interests in a divorce or family law dispute.

Few have the right mix of attributes to provide cutting-edge legal representation along with compassionate support in this stressful time.

At Petroske Riezenman & Meyers, our success is built on three pillars:


Matrimonial and family law changes often. New developments come out of Albany every year, and the courts implement the law in sometimes surprising ways. To effectively protect your interests, you need a lawyer who understands the latest developments in the law, however minor. We stay informed of upcoming amendments and trends in the law. We know the latest court decisions that might impact how a judge views your case. If there is a precedent that supports your claim, we will find it and bring it to the attention of the judge.

See our Articles, FAQs and Video Library.


Family law disputes are not like other lawsuits. These disputes are governed by different laws and different judges. Although you can ask a criminal defense lawyer or an immigration attorney to handle your matrimonial or family law dispute, you should not be surprised if they are soon in over their heads and unable to provide effective representation. At Petroske Riezenman & Meyers, our attorneys and support staff have dedicated their careers to excellence and professionalism in the practice of matrimonial and family law.

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We are proud to be highly recommended by many satisfied clients we have represented over the years in divorce and Family Court cases.  We have over a century of combined experience, which allows us to perform a complete review of your case and discover facts that work to your advantage. We understand the unique challenges that family law disputes create, such as the risk of domestic violence, impediments to a negotiated resolution, or the possibility of harassing or vexatious litigation. To see the positive results we have achieved for others, check out our Client Reviews.

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