The key difference between legal separation and divorce is that when you are separated, you are still legally married to your spouse even though you are living apart. If you later decide to get divorced, you’ll have to go through the legal steps necessary to terminate your marriage.
Why consider a legal separation vs. divorce? There are several valid reasons why people choose to legally separate but remain married to one another. They include:
- You and/or your spouse oppose divorce for religious or moral reasons
- One spouse will soon become eligible for his or her spouse’s government benefits (such as Social Security)
- One spouse will remain eligible for the other spouse’s health care or insurance benefits if they remain married
- There is a tax benefit if you and your spouse remain married to one another
- You and your spouse think there’s a chance you may reconcile after you’ve had time apart from one another
- You are not yet eligible to file for a divorce under your state’s residency requirements or waiting period, but want a court-sanctioned separation agreement until you are eligible to file for divorce
- You and/or your spouse find it less stressful to negotiate a separation agreement than to negotiate a divorce agreement
If you decide to remain married because one spouse will be entitled to the other spouse’s benefits (such as Social Security or health insurance), make sure you read the fine print associated with such benefits. Some benefits will specifically exclude legally separated spouses from eligibility.
A divorce attorney with experience handling legal separations can explain to you the pros and cons of legal separation vs. divorce. You should also consider talking to a financial planner or accountant to help understand the financial ramifications of legal separation.