Reasons for Marital Separation

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A list of the reasons couples break up would consume hundreds of pages, since the straw that breaks a marriage's back can be almost anything, including seemingly trivial disagreements that would have been ignored in the earlier stages of the marriage. But when couples opt for legal separation instead of a dissolution of the marriage, it's usually for one of several specific reasons, including religious beliefs and financial/insurance entanglements.

Separation, Legal Separation and Divorce

She packs her bags and slams the door behind her, or he moves back in with his parents for a while. A separation just means that a couple is living apart for a time, and that time can be brief: a matter of weeks, or lengthy, for decades. A separation occurs when two people who were a couple decide to live apart. The causes and the duration vary significantly.

In a divorce, the actual marriage is terminated. The couple was married and, after a divorce, is no longer married. A divorce is termed a dissolution in some states, and the decree actually dissolves the union. Property is divided, debts are assigned to one or the other, a child custody and visitation plan is established, and support payments are determined. After entry of a decree of divorce, each person is single and free to marry someone else.

In a legal separation, the living together stage of the marriage is over, but the marriage itself is not. A legal separation allows a couple to live apart but stay technically married. The court issues the same types of orders it issues for a divorce, separating assets, debts and parenting time, but neither person is single, and neither is free to marry anyone else.

Reasons Couples Opt for Legal Separation

Couples opt for legal separation for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are religious beliefs and financial entanglements. And some couples use legal separation as a prelude to divorce.

Some religions do not allow their members to divorce. Members of these religions may hesitate before ending a marriage because of their personal religious beliefs or because of the pressure from their church. A legal separation allows for an enforceable financial and parenting plan while not violating those beliefs or rules.

On the other hand, some couples find their finances will not permit a divorce. Sometimes, a working spouse's health insurance covers a nonworking spouse who cannot qualify for or afford health insurance on her own. Sometimes, the nonworking spouse needs to put in 10 years of marriage to qualify for Social Security benefits based on the other spouse's earnings. And sometimes, a couple's tax benefits from filing jointly are just too valuable to give up.

Finally, some couples use a legal separation as the first step toward divorce. Some states even mandate that a couple separate legally as a precursor to divorce.