Divorce is an irreversible filing that is usually the end of the line for couples. However, for those seriously questioning whether a divorce is the right course of action, there is another alternative. Legal separation is a course of action that allows couples to trial how things will be separated and handled as if it were a divorce.
Legal separation is a written agreement filed with the court that addresses and outlines the rights and responsibilities of a married couple while they are living apart. It is important to note that while legally separated, the couple is still married and cannot remarry. If this is at all on either party’s mind, then a divorce will need to happen. Spouses must also agree to the terms of the separation, otherwise it will be a divorce.
How is Legal Separation Different from Divorce?
Legal separations are a trial of how assets and debts will be divided, child custody and support arrangements, visitation schedules, alimony and more. Although a legal separation is handled through the courts much the same as a divorce, the major difference is that the couple is still married when everything is finalized. There are some benefits to opting for a legal separation over a divorce:
- Maintain marital status for religious reasons. Especially for those unable to divorce, this alternative allows them to keep the status yet live their life as if unmarried.
- Allow the couple time apart to see if divorce is actually what they want. Legal separation establishes exactly how everything will be handled as opposed to an informal trial separation. If divorce is the next step for you, be sure that the details are what you can live with. Often times judges will look at the terms of your legal separation as the terms of divorce.
- Continued insurance benefits on your spouse’s coverage; be sure to check the policy to see if it addresses what happens if a couple legally separates
- Retain certain military benefits
- Keep married status in order to meet ten year requirement to qualify for certain social security benefits of spouse
- Possible tax benefits
In California, there is no residency requirements for filing for legal separation, this means that you don’t have to live in California for six months prior to filing. Furthermore, legal separation happens immediately whereas the process for divorce takes six months.
If you are considering divorce, but hope to reconcile your relationship, taking legal action may not be the path to choose just yet. Almost always, the couples entering into a legal separation will file for divorce in time.