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Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta-Jones; Clint & Dina Eastwood: Celebrity Separations Are Popping Up All Over…But What Does ‘Separation’ Mean?

Two of Hollywood’s hottest couples announced their separation this week: Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are “taking a break” after 13 years. Married in 1996, Clint and Dina Eastwood have confirmed that they’ve been living apart for a year. But don’t register any of these superstars on dating websites just yet…Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman separated last year, to the chagrin of the legions of fans, and then got back together after a few months.

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According to family law attorneys Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson of SmolenPlevy in Vienna, Virginia, it is not unusual for a couple to separate for a period of time before they file for divorce; sometimes the law in the state in which they reside requires a period of separation. A separation allows couples to spend time apart and, in many cases, to have thoughtful discussions about how they will structure their separate lives. During the separation, the couple remains legally married.

Some issues that couples should discuss, preferably prior to, but certainly during the separation period include:

· Child custody, support, and visitation

· Spousal support

· Maintenance of marital assets, such as who will be making mortgage and car payments

The definition of separation varies by state. A number of states, including the District of Columbia, permit parties to file court documents seeking or recognizing legal separations. Other states, including Virginia, do not have similar provisions so that when parties separate, no one goes to court to record the date of the separation. Likewise, the laws that govern what relief is available through the courts during a separation, like temporary spousal or child support, custody and the required duration that the parties must be separated before either can file for divorce, also varies by state.

In states where no laws govern the terms of a separation, Dickerson advises couples to pay particular attention to how they deal with custody and visitation. "The couple should be clear with the children as to when and how they will see each parent," she says. "Ideally this is a conversation that takes place with both parents present."

Plevy adds that while it is not common, couples have reconciled after a period of separation. As in the case of DeVito and Perlman, not all separations end in divorce, just as some couples that divorce find themselves remarrying each other.

To read more about legal separation, click here.

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