Which Way to Go: Divorce or Legal Separation?

If your Divorce has already worked its way through the court system, this post won’t do you much good (though it will have info you can pass along to others, or keep in mind if your next marriage doesn’t work out, either…)

But if you’re Divorce-Curious, still living together though someone’s leaving soon, or in the initial stages of your split, you will be faced with an important decision: File for Divorce, or start with a legal separation? Different states have different laws, so your location may affect your choices. But if you have an option, there are a number of factors you may want to consider.

To start with, while everyone knows what a Divorce is, not all of us are clear on the meaning of “legal separation.”  This piece from Divorced Moms explains that it’s a binding agreement that lays out financial obligations and limits to liability. If you have minor children, it will also specify arrangements for them.

So why might you take the “intermediary” step of legally separating instead of filing for divorce?

Some couples may decide they want time apart to see if the marriage is really over, yet want the financial protection that a legal separation provides against debts their spouse may incur.

Other couples who already know their marriage is over may also choose a legal separation over divorce for financial reasons. For instance, spousal benefits like health insurance would still be available in a legal separation, though not after divorce. Additionally, a marriage lasting at least ten years makes certain Social Security benefits available to the lower earning spouse (like a stay-at-home or part-time-working mom), so a couple may go with a legal separation until reaching their ten year anniversary, then divorce afterwards. Here are more details on that wrinkle.

Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different, and a decision like this should be made in consultation with your attorney and financial/tax advisors.

Oh, and if you think a legal separation makes perfect sense, but your spouse is adamantly opposed, maybe he or she is anxious to marry someone else… which will likely make you ready for the Big D, too.