When marriages end, couples have a variety of options. Some go through the legal separation process while others pursue divorce. Understanding the differences between these two options can help spouses decide which path is best for them and their children.
One of the biggest issues that separates couples is the difference between living apart and being legally separated. Some spouses mistakenly assume that if they are living in different houses then they are automatically legally separated. However, that is not true. To be legally separated, a couple must have the court make it so. The court would then establish agreements, such as child custody, support, and property division.
The decision to separate or get a divorce is often complicated by financial considerations. If a couple chooses to divorce, they may lose access to financial benefits that come with being married such as joint tax filing status and employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. In addition, if they agree to terms within a legal separation agreement that they later regret, such as a long-term separation, it can be difficult to change these provisions in a finalized divorce decree.
Other factors that may drive a couple to choose legal separation rather than divorce include religious or cultural considerations. Some religions do not allow divorce, while others discourage it based on personal values or moral beliefs. In these situations, a legal separation allows the couple to live separately while still adhering to these values.
Many couples are also unsure about the future of their relationship. They may realize that they can no longer work together, but they aren’t sure whether or not they want to reconcile. A separation can give them the “cooling off” period they need to determine if their marriage is salvageable.
In addition, a legal separation is an excellent option for couples that have children. Children can be deeply affected by the end of a marriage and need time to adjust. A separation gives parents the opportunity to see how their kids respond before making a permanent decision. In most cases, courts will honor any parenting plan that the parents come up with to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both of their parents. However, if the parents cannot agree on a plan, a judge will step in to determine what is in the children’s best interests.