Ending a marriage is never easy, and the thought of divorce can be incredibly distressing. However, if you and your spouse are having severe problems in your marriage and neither of you believes your relationship is likely to continue, divorce may not be your only option for resolving the situation. In addition, for some couples, divorce is not an option at all due to religious beliefs or the serious financial problems that divorce can present. In these situations, legal separation can potentially act as an effective alternative to divorce in many ways.

If you are unsure whether legal separation would suit your situation, it’s essential to understand what legal separation entails and how it compares to divorce. Some couples use legal separation as a “trial period” for divorce; others consider it a valuable cooling-off period before divorce proceedings ensue. In some cases, legal separation can be an effective alternative to divorce. Review the following frequently asked questions and their answers to learn more about the potential benefits and drawbacks of legal separation.

Legal separation FAQs

Q: How Is Legal Separation Different From Divorce?

A: A legal separation will cover many of the same issues as a divorce, such as a child custody determination, property division, and alimony determination. However, at the end of the legal separation process, the spouses remain legally married. It’s also possible to rescind a separation order and return to married life as usual if you and your spouse decide to do so. Divorce is the ending of a marriage contract. You cannot undo a divorce after it is complete. While you can technically remarry your ex-spouse, your divorce order can pose significant legal issues, and you will likely face challenging legal problems in this situation.

Q: Can I Start a New Relationship While Legally Separated?

A: Many people start new relationships after separating from their spouses. However, it’s crucial to adhere to the legal requirements of your separation order. As long as you and your new partner live separately and you continue to abide by the terms of your separation order, dating a new partner is technically acceptable, but it may pose personal problems and cause emotional distress to your family. You cannot remarry unless you formally divorce your spouse, even after completing a legal separation.

Q: When Is Divorce Not Possible?

A: Some couples’ relationships will deteriorate, but their religious beliefs prohibit divorce. In these situations, legal separation can allow them to establish separate living arrangements and essentially resolve all of the financial issues that divorce typically entails. However, for religious purposes, they will remain legally married.

Q: What Do I Need to Resolve in Legal Separation?

A: Legal separation will cover many of the same issues that a divorce would cover. You and your spouse will need to resolve custody of your child, develop a child support agreement, divide your marital property according to state law, and resolve spousal support if necessary. Since you remain legally married, some of your shared marital property may remain relatively untouched. The specifics of the financial aspects of legal separation vary from case to case.

Q: What Happens If My Separated Spouse and I Decide to Divorce?

A: It’s relatively easy to transition from a legal separation to a divorce. Since you must cover most of the issues that divorce entails, you will effectively cover most of your divorce issues during the legal separation process. However, divorce will formally end any ongoing financial arrangements between the two of you, such as shared health insurance. You will also need to divide any remaining shared property.

Q: What Happens If My Spouse and I Reconcile?

A: You can end a legal separation simply by submitting a motion to dismiss your separation order. An attorney can assist you in filling out and filing the appropriate forms. Once your motion is granted, you can resume married life as before, as if the legal separation never occurred.

Q: What Are the Benefits of Legal Separation?

A: Legal separation can be preferable to divorce in many situations. For example, if the spouses are older and neither intends to remarry, remaining legally married may allow them to save money on taxes by filing jointly as a married couple. They may also be able to continue taking advantage of a shared health insurance plan.

Q: How Long Does Legal Separation Take?

A: Legal separation may not be as final as a divorce, but the process requires covering most of the issues you would need to address in a divorce. It can take several weeks to a few months to resolve most legal separation cases, but ultimately the time required depends on the number of variables involved in the case. While many people assume legal separation to be a more streamlined alternative to divorce, the reality is that it can often take just as long as divorce since it requires covering most, if not all, of the same issues that divorce entails.

Q: Do I Need a Lawyer for Legal Separation?

A: While a legal separation does not impose the finality of a divorce, you must still cover a wide range of issues, and the results of your legal separation can influence your life in many ways. Additionally, if you intend to use legal separation as a springboard for a future divorce or as a “cooling off” period before proceeding with a divorce, it’s essential to have reliable legal counsel as you navigate this process. An attorney is not a strict requirement, but hiring legal counsel for your legal separation proceedings is strongly recommended.

You probably have lots of additional questions about the legal separation process and the potential benefits it may provide in your unique situation. Ultimately, it’s possible for anyone to notice the benefits and drawbacks of legal separation depending on their circumstances. While a legal separation is not as final as a divorce, it still requires thorough and thoughtful consideration of various issues. Legal advice you can trust is invaluable when faced with this difficult situation. If you are unsure whether legal separation would be right for you, consult an experienced family law attorney to discuss your situation.