Whether you’re a newlywed whose honeymoon period ended shortly after the actual honeymoon trip, or a long-time Missus whose golden anniversary was less than golden, there are two options you can choose from if everything else has proved fruitless: legal separation* or divorce.
What’s the difference? Great question. To put it simply, in a legal separation, you’re still considered legally married. On the other hand, a divorce dissolves your marriage in its entirety. Many people use a legal separation as a first step before they proceed with an actual divorce.
Why would anyone choose a legal separation over a divorce?
Well, depending on your particular situation, you may be able to enjoy these five benefits. With a legal separation, you can:
1. Take a “test drive” before you make an irreversible decision. Legal separation is like pressing pause on your marriage. If you and your spouse decide to reconcile during a legal separation, you have the option to resume your marriage. Divorce, on the other hand, is an irreversible decision. So if you change your mind and no longer want to be divorced, you’ll need to go to court to get officially married—again.
Just as you dated for some time before you made the life-altering decision to get married (well, we assume), you shouldn’t make any hasty decisions about ending it as well. A legal separation will help you “test drive” the situation before you commit to a divorce, which after all is permanent.
If you still have lingering thoughts of reconciling, it’s safe to stay legally separated until you are absolutely sure you’re ready to take that leap into divorcedom.
2. Keep those vows you made on your wedding day. Though you and your spouse may no longer want to be together, you may still want to maintain your sacred union and vows. That’s why many people choose a legal separation since it allows you to be legally separated yet keep that promise you made on your wedding day. Here are some reasons people choose not to have a divorce:
- Religious Beliefs. Your religion may be against divorce, and in some cases, your divorce may not be recognized in the eyes of your religion. And in some extreme cases, your divorce can excommunicate you if you divorce, especially if you remarry someone new.
- Personal Preference. You may simply desire to live separately but still want to maintain your wedding vows. You may not see the advantage of getting a divorce, especially if you or your spouse do not expect to remarry and/or want to completely dissolve your marriage.
3. Stay together until your children are ready. If you and your spouse have children, a divorce can get a lot more complicated. The change in your children’s daily routine and environment may prove to be difficult for them to comprehend or even deal with, which is why many parents choose to legally separate rather than divorce. By postponing the divorce until your children are ready to leave the nest, you can avoid a difficult transition period for them during an already tumultuous time as an adolescent or teenager.
With a legal separation, you’d get a court order that sets out guidelines regarding aspects of the marriage, including financial and custodial responsibilities, with a separation agreement. This agreement will come in handy if you decide to file for divorce down the road since you’ll have your agreement all ready.
4. Use this time to resolve property, assets, and debts. We’ve all heard our girlfriends’ horror stories: Divorce can get messy, quickly. A legal separation affords you that time to outline all the responsibilities, rights, and arrangements for your family before filing for divorce. This time will allow you to resolve everything from divvying up shared property to preventing your assets and debts from getting intertwined. The advantage of a legal separation is having that time to prepare and organize everything before you decide to fully end your marriage.
5. Retain your financial benefits. Money. It’s one of the top reasons why people divorce, and interestingly enough, it’s also one of the top reasons why couples remain legally
- Health Insurance. If you have difficulty obtaining health insurance and/or are covered by your spouse’s employer, you may want to stay legally separated. If you’re insured by your spouse’s employer, you may not be allowed to stay on that coverage after the divorce. Additionally, once you get a divorce, you may need to resubmit for health insurance if you filed for coverage as a couple.
- Social Security and Military Benefits. For those who stay together for 10 years or more, you may be eligible to receive a part of your spouse’s Social Security benefits. If you and your spouse are on relatively good terms, you may want to remain married for a full 10 years to ensure that you get a portion of the pension. Additionally, if you’re a military spouse, after 10 years, you are qualified to receive benefits through the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act.
- Tax Deductions. When you’re legally separated, you’re allowed to deduct spousal support. You must have a legal separation agreement to receive those tax benefits. If you’re legally separated but still want to file jointly, you can take advantage of the tax benefits of doing so. But you can’t do both—deduct spousal support and file jointly.