While most people understand that a legal separation and a divorce are not the same thing, there is often confusion about what each state involves. Essentially, the separation does address many of the same issues, and can protect the interests of both parties. Depending on the situation, a legal separation may be preferable to a divorce, especially if both spouses agree that their problems can ultimately be resolved.
There are several advantages associated with obtaining a legal separation. The most immediate benefit is the ability to establish some physical distance from one another. By allowing both parties time away from the conflict that is taking place in the marriage, the legal separation makes it possible to gain perspective on the issues and make decisions that are reasonable, rather than based on the emotions of the moment.
Along with allowing couples some time apart, a legal separation makes it possible to maintain the benefits related to marriage. For example, both parties can continue to enjoy the advantages of their joint medical insurance coverage, as well as any other types of benefits that have been established for their mutual advantage. In the event that the couple is able to resolve their differences and wish to continue the marriage, there is no need to re-establish any mutual benefit programs, since they continued to be in effect throughout the legal separation.
Many people struggle with the concept of divorce, based on their religious beliefs. Often, divorce in this situation is considered a last resort to be used only after all hope of reconciliation has disappeared. A legal separation provides a way to live separately, while still honoring one’s beliefs and investigating the best way to ultimately resolve the issue.
There is also an important long-term financial benefit associated with establishing a legal separation and maintaining that state for ten or so years. In the United States, the spouse is more likely to be eligible for additional Social Security benefits, which can help make it easier to maintain an equitable standard of living later on. Spouses of military personnel can also choose an extended legal separation over a divorce and take advantage of benefits established for former spouses, once the marriage is formally dissolved, if the marriage lasted long enough to qualify.
Of course, there are situations where divorce is the best option. In situations where physical or emotional abuse is present, ending the marriage may be the only way to achieve some degree of safety and begin to rebuild shattered self-esteem. Infidelity is often an obstacle that spouses are unable to overcome, making it better for both parties to end the marriage and move on to new lives. When financial irresponsibility is a key factor in the woes of the marriage, divorce may be necessary to prevent the innocent party from being shouldered with an ever-growing mountain of bills that are created by the irresponsible spouse.
A legal separation can also pave the way for obtaining a divorce. In many jurisdictions, it is relatively easy to convert a legal separation agreement into a divorce agreement. Since much of the groundwork is already in place, adapting the terms of the agreement is a relatively easy process, and makes it possible to end the marriage with fewer difficulties in terms of dividing personal property and settling the debts created during the course of the marriage.
Even in situations where the separation or divorce is amicable, it is a good idea for both spouses to have separate legal counsel. This helps to ensure that both parties have competent counsel that is looking out for the best interests of his or her client.