A legal marital separation, also called "separate maintenance," occurs when a couple seeks a court order to formalize a marriage separation. A legal separation can resolve issues that would normally be handled in a divorce, such as child custody and financial issues, while the couple still remains legally married. There are several advantages and disadvantages of legal marital separations with respect to divorce and informal separations.
A potential benefit of a legal separation is that it leaves open the possibility of reconciliation. If a couple isn't ready to call it quits for good in the hope that they will resolve their differences, but they need a break from one another, a legal separation can allow them that chance. In some cases, however, prolonging a marriage that is not working in the hopes of reconciliation may lead to pain and disappointment. Also, a legal separation could make it more difficult to reconcile than an informal separation. With an informal separation, the couple must decide how to handle children and financial issues, which facilitates communication. After a legal separation, communication may not be as necessary. If reconciliation does not occur, the couple can seek divorce in the future, although this means going through another formal legal process. If separated couples want to remarry, they will have to obtain a divorce before they can be married again.
For some couples, divorce may be a religious or moral concern. A legal separation can allow for a similar situation as divorce without formal divorce papers. This can allow couples to live as individuals without breaking religious beliefs.
There are a range of financial issues that can factor into the decision to become legally separated. For instance, if a couple gets divorced, spouses will no longer be eligible for family benefits through work, such as health and dental insurance. Separation can allow a spouse to retain insurance coverage. Sometimes it can be beneficial to delay divorce in order to allow time for benefits like social security and pensions to kick in. If one spouse has a high income, formalizing issues like alimony early on with a legal separation may offer tax advantages.
Waiting for Divorce
Divorce requirements vary from state to state, but formalizing a divorce takes time and there may be a waiting period before divorce proceedings begin. A legal separation can be a way to achieve a situation similar to divorce while waiting for a formal divorce.