What are the Pros and Cons of Legal Separation?

When you are at a point where staying in your marriage does not seem like the right choice anymore, it is important to know that divorce is not your only option. Legal separation allows you and your spouse to live separately while still being legally married. It is a step that some find helpful to take time, think things through, and decide on the future of the relationship without the finality of divorce

But how is it different from a divorce? What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing legal separation? It is best to seek advice from a knowledgeable divorce and legal separation lawyer before making this decision.

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What is Legal Separation?

If a couple decides not to continue living together but still want to remain legally married, they can go to the family court to get separated. The court will then make key decisions on their behalf regarding how to split marital property and debts, arrangements for spousal support and child support, and child custody agreements. This part is very similar to a divorce.

This way, you and your spouse will live independently, each with your own financial implications and responsibilities. However, unlike divorce, you are still legally married during this period. This status continues until a divorce decree is issued by the court, should you choose to pursue one later.

It should be noted that not all states recognize separation. In Pennsylvania, for example, you can still live separately from your spouse but the law does not provide a formal legal separation process. There is no legal status change as there is with divorce, so any agreements made during this period do not have the same legal enforceability as they would in states where separation is recognized.

If you live in Pennsylvania and have decided to separate, you and your partner will have to address the matter through a private agreement or by proceeding directly to divorce.

Advantages of Legal Separation 

If you are wondering why would anyone choose to get separated instead of cleanly ending the marriage for good, there are several reasons:

  • It allows couples to live apart while still enjoying the financial benefits of a married couple, such as tax benefits, continued health insurance benefits under a spouse's plan, and the ability to continue accumulating shared assets and retirement benefits.
  • It gives couples time to think about their relationship without making any rash decisions. They can use this period to work on personal issues, attend counseling, or simply take time to decide if divorce is right for them.
  • If your religious or moral beliefs conflict with divorce, separation provides an alternative that respects these beliefs while allowing you to live on your own terms. It has less social stigma compared to divorce.
  • If you have children, separation can offer a more stable environment for them. It can be less emotionally taxing than divorce and allows for a more gradual adjustment to new living arrangements.
  • Staying legally married means both parties might still benefit from each other's healthcare plans or social security benefits, which can be important for older couples or those with health issues.
  • By specifying so in your separation agreement, you can protect yourself from any future debt incurred by your spouse. Each party can become responsible for their own debts post-separation by outlining clearly who is responsible for existing debts and how future debts will be handled.
  • Separated spouses can still make medical or financial decisions for each other and retain inheritance rights, unless specified otherwise in legal documents.
  • A spouse’s health insurance may continue after a legal separation under certain conditions.
  • The time and costs involved (including legal fees) are likely to be lower in a legal separation compared to a contentious divorce.  

Disadvantages of Legal Separation

It may allow you to lead your own separate lives and make individual life decisions with no interference from the other, but one fact remains: separation retains the legal bond of marriage. The legal process of separation comes with the following implications:

  • Since you are still legally married, you cannot marry someone else. If you meet a new partner and want to remarry, you will need to get divorced first.
  • Even though you maintain separate residences, your finances might still be tangled. If the separation agreement is not comprehensive or if certain types of debts (like jointly held credit cards or loans) are not specifically addressed, creditors may still pursue you for debts incurred by your spouse.  
  • You might not have access to the same tax benefits as a divorced couple. Legally separated couples are usually not eligible to file their taxes as single or as head of household; instead, they might have to file as married filing jointly or married filing separately, which could affect their tax liabilities.
  • Unless explicitly addressed, separated spouses might still have rights to each other’s estate. This means if one spouse passes away without a will, the other may still inherit, which might not be the desired outcome if your relationship is contentious.
  • Separation does not give you the emotional closure that a divorce might. You are not together, but you are still legally married. This middle ground can make it hard to move on fully, as you are not closing the chapter on your marriage like you would with a divorce. This state of uncertainty can be draining for your emotional wellbeing.

Additionally, a no-fault divorce option so you do not have to blame your spouse for the marriage ending. You can simply say the marriage did not work out, without giving a specific reason. However, with legal separation, this option might not be available. You may need to provide a reason or prove fault, like infidelity or abandonment, to legally separate. This can make the process more for one or both parties.

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Call us to Discuss What are the Pros and Cons of Legal Separation and Make an Informed Decision

Going through the motions of legal separation or divorce might feel like an isolating experience, but you do not have to face it on your own. Let a divorce attorney from Very Law be your strong advocate and legal representation during this challenging time. To schedule your free consultation with our legal team, call us at 412-430-0131 or contact us online.

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