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Should You Keep The Knot Tied? Legal Separation vs. Divorce

If you’re contemplating divorce, your emotions may encourage you to go full-speed-ahead to a quick resolution and the beginning of your idyllic, spouse-less future. But there may be reasons to put on the brakes – at least for a while – and consider whether legal separation makes sense as a first step.

Like a divorce, a legal separation is a court order that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse. It can address issues such as division of property and debts, child custody, support, and visitation, as well as spousal support, during the period while you are living apart but remaining married. In fact, the separation agreement often provides a template to be followed in the final divorce settlement – so it should be carefully considered and crafted with the assistance of an attorney concentrating in family law.

Legal separation can be a preferred course of action if you want to live apart but:

  • You want medical or other spousal benefits to continue
  • You have not yet been married for 10 years and want to wait to divorce until you qualify for Social Security or military benefits for former spouses
  • Either spouse is not emotionally ready for a permanent end of the relationship
  • Your religion prohibits divorce

A word of advice: Your behavior during a legal separation can go a long way toward a smoother and less contentious divorce. Do your best to honor support and debt agreements, as well as visitation schedules and other terms. Be discreet in your personal life. Do not provide extra ammunition for a bitter divorce battle.

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