There are a number of advantages to a legal separation over a divorce. There are also substantial costs and a number of disadvantages. Whether or not a legal separation will make sense for a particular married couple will largely depend on the reasons for the legal separation instead of a divorce.
Questionable Reasons for Legal Separation
Let’s begin with an invalid reason for a legal separation, and what is more often than not the only reason. Parties may wish to have a trial separation prior to a full-fledged divorce.
This is not alone a good basis for a legal separation for several reasons. First, an informal separation (meaning one of the parties moves out) can be just as effective for purposes of a trial separation in that it gives the parties some space from each other and allows them to try living on their own.
Second, the legal process required for a legal separation is substantially similar to that required for a divorce, which means that it takes just as long and can be just as expensive as a divorce.
Third, if there is a possibility of reconciliation, then it is often better to try an informal separation with counseling than a legal separation. The legal separation process itself may cause stress, conflict and significant financial burdens. In the end the stress of the legal process associated with a legal separation may be the very thing that pushes the couple toward divorce when the parties may have had the opposite in mind when beginning the legal separation process.
Good Reasons for Legal Separation
Religious Beliefs: There are some very good reasons for a legal separation beyond a trial period of separation. The parties may have religious beliefs that weigh against a divorce. This may well be sufficient grounds for the legal separation.
Division of Property and Debt: One or both parties may wish to divide their property and debt. A legal separation ends, much like a divorce, with a binding division of property and debt. There may be a variety of reasons for wishing to divide property and debt. The most common is the growing debt of one of the parties.
This could be the result of a host of reasons with the a fairly common reason these days being medical expenses. It might also be that one of the parties is simply financially irresponsible and the other party does not wish to take on the financial burdens of those excesses.
Health Insurance: Perhaps the most common reason for a legal separation is health insurance. In case of divorce, the co-insured will most often not be allowed to remain on the insurance plan beyond a grace period which is usually not longer than 6 months and sometimes there may be no grace period at all.
With the current economic climate and the extraordinary costs of health insurance, this could be reason enough for a legal separation. This is particularly true of older parties where replacement insurance will be substantially more expensive due to preexisting conditions. The inability to obtain health insurance for someone with a serious medical condition, quite literally, may make the decision to pursue a legal separation a life and death decision.
Make Sure a Legal Separation is Right for You
There are other reasons for a legal separation beyond those stated above. There are also numerous disadvantages to a legal separation that might arise depending on the circumstances.
One very important consideration that should be kept in mind is the costs of the legal separation. The costs are comparable to a divorce and will be duplicated to a large degree in case divorce becomes necessary.
All of these should be explored with an experienced divorce and family law attorney before making this important decision.