Are you unhappy in your marriage? Is marriage not what you expected or is it no longer working for you and your spouse? Don’t worry, you have options. It is difficult to make the decision to end a marriage and it is a decision that should not be taken lightly. It is for this reason, among others, that before taking that drastic step, many couples decide to first experience life apart through a legal separation.
Legal separation provides couples an opportunity to live apart from each other and at the same time sets out the rights and responsibilities for each spouse. This includes, items such as child custody, child support, spousal support/maintenance and property division. A legal separation is a legally binding document that a married couple enters into to decide the terms of their separation without ending their marriage. Once entered into, the couple is still legally married but is also considered separate in the eyes of the law.
A legal separation can be accomplished through a written agreement by the parties or by going to court and requesting a judgment of separation.
The main difference between legal separation and divorce is that a legal separation does not actually dissolve the marriage and the parties are still considered legally married and therefore cannot get remarried.
Legal separation offers advantages to the couple. Specifically:
(1) It allows the couple to see how their current problems and relationship is affected by living apart so that they can determine if they want to reconcile or they want to officially end their marriage and file for divorce. If they choose to reconcile, there is no need to remarry.
(2) It is generally a more amicable process and may have less of a tumultuous effect on the couple’s child(ren).
(3) A legal separation can be highly advantageous in protecting both spouses’ entitlement to benefits. Since the couple is still married, the couple maintains their married status and benefits like health plan coverage that would likely terminate upon divorce generally will continue. Spouses who are married for at least ten years are generally eligible for certain Social Security Benefits and for benefits under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. There may also be tax benefits.
(4) Some couples choose legal separation as an alternative to divorce for religious and/or moral reasons.
(5) While divorce can be an amicable process, a majority of divorce proceedings are long, drawn out, expensive litigations. Divorce battles, more often than legal separation cases, can be hostile. This can rack up large attorneys’ fees and court costs.
(6) Obtaining a legal separation generally does not disrupt life and work the way a divorce battle can. Both spouses can continue to function normally in their daily lives without the stress, emotional turmoil and time requirements that can come with drawn-out divorce cases.
(7) Another benefit is that once a legal separation is complete, the legal work involved in coming to an agreement can be used during the divorce process, since the rights and responsibilities of the parties during the separation can be converted into post-divorce obligations.
While legal separation offers many advantages, divorce may be the only option for some couples. Ultimately the decision of legal separation versus divorce comes down to the circumstances involved in the marriage. A legal separation will still keep the couple married, and if a spouse wants to marry someone else they have to file for divorce.