While divorce is a legal option in all states, some states also offer legal separation as an alternative. The main difference between divorce and legal separation is that with the latter you're still legally married. However, a legal separation agreement still allows for the division of assets and finances, filing of child custody and child support, and even spousal support claims. If you're experiencing marital troubles and live in a state that allows both divorce and legal separation, how can you know which option is best for you?
Ask Yourself: Does Your Religion Permit Divorce?
For starters, understand that one of the most common reasons people choose legal separation over divorce is that their religion simply doesn't allow for divorce. For example, the Catholic Church does not allow divorce, except for cases in which the marriage has been annulled. With a legal separation, you can basically enjoy living separate lives from your spouse without having to go against the religion you're devoted to. On the other hand, if your religion allows for divorce (or you simply don't practice any particular religion), then a legal separation might not be for you.
Do Either of You Plan on Remarrying?
Another consideration to keep in mind when deciding between a legal separation and a divorce is whether either you or your spouse is planning to someday remarry. After all, you cannot legally remarry if you're legally separated because you're technically still married to your "ex." Therefore, if there's any question as to whether or not one of you will want to remarry, then you'll want to get a total divorce. Many older couples who don't plan on remarrying will opt for a legal separation so that any children they have together can remain legitimate, but this is a personal decision.
Do You Rely on Your Spouse's Benefits?
Finally, consider whether or not you rely heavily on your spouse's benefits (health insurance, dental insurance, etc.). If so, and if you and your spouse are separating on amicable terms, then a legal separation might be best because this option can allow you to retain those benefits. This is a good option if you're self-employed or a stay-at-home mom without access to your own affordable benefits. And if you've been married for less than a decade, a legal separation may be able to "hold you off" until you're eligible to share your spouse's Social Security benefits after you divorce.
For more information, contact a family law attorney, such as Law Offices of Thomas J Donnelly.