If you and your spouse recognize that your marriage is not working as it current is, you have a few options. Many people do move straight to divorce, and sometimes, that’s the right move. There’s nothing wrong with getting a divorce if neither of you wants to continue the marriage. Find a good divorce attorney and begin moving forward if that’s the case. However, if you and your spouse aren’t certain that you do want a divorce, you may want to look at a legal separation. It has some benefits divorce doesn’t, but you do need to fully understand what it means to legally separate before you begin this process.
What Is Legal Separation?
A legal separation is not an end to your marriage. Instead, you and your spouse agree to live separately. This can be for a set period of time, or it can be indefinitely. There are some couples who live 20 years or more separated yet still married. Some never divorce but also never reconcile fully.
The main goal of a legal separation is to distance yourself from your spouse. However, in each case, there may be additional goals to your separation. You may legally separate as the first step towards divorce. You may also separate but hope to eventually reconcile. It’s up to you how you use this process.
Divorce, on the other hand, is a full legal end to your marriage. You and your ex-spouse are no longer legally connected (unless you have children, of course, in which case you can never be fully disconnected as long as they are minors).
Are There Benefits to Being Legally Separated?
Yes, there are some reasons why you may want to legally separate rather than get divorce. Financially, you and your spouse will keep separate bank accounts and untangle your finances. The court may order child support or alimony, and they can assist you in dividing your assets and debts. This is one reason why you will want a divorce attorney who understands separation on your side. This can be helpful if you are temporarily separating due to financial issues, such as a gambling or shopping addiction.
However, you and your spouse due continue to enjoy some of the financial benefits of being married. If one of you were to die, the other would automatically inherit any property and other assets under your state’s marriage inheritance laws. You are entitled to each other’s Social Security benefits and pensions that pay out to surviving spouses. You can also remain on your spouse’s health insurance in many states.
Another benefit to separating over divorce is that it can allow you to remain in good standing with your religious community. Some religions forbid divorce or look down on those who get divorced. By separating, you do technically remain married, though you are able to live a mostly separate life from your spouse.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to a legal separation over a divorce is that separating is not permanent. A divorce is the end of your marriage, and it cannot be reversed. While you and your spouse could remarry, your divorce isn’t erased. A separation, on the other hand, can be ended at any point.
What About Downsides?
There are a few downsides to being legally separated. You will want to fully understand how the law and your health insurance views separation. Some may equate legal separation with divorce.
You also cannot legally remarry.
Another issue with legal separation is that, while it sounds like it would be faster and easier, it’s not. Because the process involves the court determining child support, alimony, and division of assets/debts, it can take just as long as a divorce. If you are separating with the expectation of eventually divorcing, you may find yourself going through two long legal processes.
The stress of going through this process can cause even more damage to your relationship. This is especially true if the two of you realize that you do not agree with how things should be divided. The court may have to step in and make these decisions, and that can stress you out even more.
Which Is the Right Option for You?
At the end of the day, both legal separations and divorces have their merits. If you’re certain that your marriage is over, it’s best to move straight to divorce or to separate with the intent to divorce, as some states legally require. However, if you simply need time to consider your marriage, separation is a legal way of taking that time without doing anything permanent. Talk to your spouse about the best option for your relationship.