What Is the Difference between Divorce and Legal Separation?
You could think of a legal separation as a sort of limbo between marriage and divorce. The legal definition of being separated is that you are still married according to the law, but you are living separate lives while still holding on to all the benefits of marriage. So, what makes a separation ‘legal?’ A separation is legal with a court order that clearly outlines several agreements made between spouses that are decided and finalized by the judge. These agreements are pretty customary, like who gets to hold on to the family dog, division of custody, and who gets to keep the house. However, the complication for most people is understanding the difference between divorce and legal separation, and what the true advantages are.
It is much easier to understand when you think of a legal separation as something that isn’t finalized. You aren’t severing the marriage, and thus, you can hang on to many of the same rights and benefits that married people have. If you were to ask someone for divorce advice, that person would tell you to choose legal separation versus divorce only if you truly believe there is a fighting chance for reconciliation. If there isn’t, it is usually much smarter to go through the divorce proceedings.
Many people choose legal separation when they don’t want to go through the arduous process of divorce, which can be messy. Not only do you have to pay for lawyer fees, but there are also divisions in assets too, like property, savings, and investments. In a divorce, all assets are typically split down the middle – unless of course there is a prenuptial agreement, which protects one spouse from the legal burden of dividing his or her assets. Moreover, if you have children, you have to think about their futures as well.
No matter the circumstance, there are some financial benefits of remaining together, but legally separated. It might sound confusing, but if you want to take advantage of all the social security benefits that are afforded to couples married over a certain number of years – usually around ten years – but don’t want to be together anymore, you can become legally separated. Basically, you can still receive the benefits but live completely separate lives. Both spouses are legally allowed to be with other partners, have kids, purchase property and make investments with other partners. You can do everything except be legally married again.
Lastly, this is where things get a little tricky. If you are legally separated and one spouse meets another partner and that partner wants to get married, then you need to have a legal divorce.