If you and your spouse are considering a divorce, it is a good idea to review all your options and investigate the possibility of a legal separation instead. Each legal designation has its own benefits, and it is important to understand each before you decide to move forward. In both cases, a skilled family law attorney can guide you through the process and help you understand your options.
What is Legal Separation?
Legal separation is a binding agreement between married people that allows them to live apart from one another, establish parenting responsibilities (custody) and financial arrangements, but remain legally married.
What is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?
A divorce is a legal dissolution of a marriage as ordered by a court. Both parties are legally single after the divorce is finalized. It is binding and irreversible. A legal separation, on the other hand, can carry many of the same provisions as a divorce (including custody arrangements, spousal support, child support, and division of assets), but does not permanently end the marriage. It can also be reversed. If one party requests the legal separation be converted to a divorce, that request is always granted.
Reasons for Legal Separation
There are several reasons that a married couple may choose to get a legal separation instead of a divorce.
Get some space.
In some cases, the couple knows they can no longer be together or live together, but they are not ready for the finality of divorce. Perhaps there is a chance of reconciliation in the future, or there could be religious or cultural factors that prohibit a divorce.
Buys you more time.
Other times, the couple simply needs more time before they want to file for divorce, but they want a legally binding agreement in the meantime to ensure the division of wealth or custody arrangements are equitable and enforceable.
Maintain legal privileges.
Legal separation also allows a couple to maintain some of the legal privileges that a married couple has, such as inheritance or in some cases health insurance. Some health insurance companies have restrictions on legal separations and parties should always check with their particular insurance carrier regarding the effects a legal separation has on insurance coverage. Legal separation often preserves these rights, while also protecting each party from certain liabilities like one spouse incurring post-separation debt. This is another reason a couple may choose legal separation over divorce.
It is important to point out that even though you may be legally separated from your spouse, you will still need to keep the lines of communication open as you will continue to share many responsibilities which may include property, investments, and/or children. Neither party may remarry while legally separated, and it is always advised to remain civil with your spouse while separated.
How to File for Legal Separation
Filing for legal separation is very similar to filing for divorce, and in many cases, the steps and fees that are associated with each process will be the same. In either case, it is best to enlist the counsel of a qualified family law attorney who can walk you through the steps you will need to complete the separation. They will be able to outline the benefits and drawbacks of both a legal separation and a divorce and give you legal guidance to choose the best path forward for you and your family.