All marriages go through rough patches. With love and commitment, it is possible to work through many of them together, but despite your best efforts, you may reach a point at which you fear that the end of your marriage is unavoidable. In this case, divorce may seem like your only option, but there is an alternative that many couples choose to pursue, which is known as legal separation.
Legal separation is similar to divorce in many ways, except that it does not bring a permanent end to the marriage. However, there are still legal issues to consider, and a Downers Grove divorce lawyer can help you understand and navigate them to ensure that your legal separation accomplishes what you need it to. Whether you expect your legal separation to be long-term or temporary, there are some important things for you to consider.
Possible Reasons For Legal Separation
The choice to pursue a legal separation depends heavily on each couple’s situation and preferences. There are many reasons, both personal and financial, why legal separation can be a good option, some of which include:
- You are unsure whether you are ready for a divorce. Though you may be experiencing marital issues that you need time to process, you may still hold out hope that reconciliation is possible. Legal separation allows you and your spouse to live separately without officially ending your marriage, allowing you to reunite with fewer challenges if you are able to resolve your problems.
- Divorce is against your religious or cultural beliefs. In some religions and cultures, divorce is forbidden or looked upon unfavorably. If you know your relationship has failed, but you wish to avoid the stigma of divorce among your family and community, you can pursue a legal separation instead.
- You want to stay married while your kids are still at home. Perhaps you believe that a divorce is inevitable, but you want to wait until your children have grown and moved out on their own before officially beginning divorce proceedings. This may allow you to focus more time and energy on your relationship with your kids, and it may reduce the risk of them being caught in the middle of a legal conflict.
- You want the tax benefits of filing jointly. In many cases, married couples can save money through deductions and credits when they file their taxes jointly. If you want to maintain this benefit, at least in the short term, you may choose to legally separate instead of proceeding immediately with a divorce.
- You need to remain covered under your spouse’s health insurance. Many employers offer employees the option to cover their spouses under their health insurance plan, but that coverage often ends in the event of a divorce. However, a legal separation may allow a spouse to stay covered, which can be crucial if the spouse requires significant ongoing medical care.
- You are nearing eligibility for government benefits. For some governmental benefits like Social Security and military pensions, spouses may be entitled to a share even after a divorce, provided that they have been married for a long enough period of time. You may choose to legally separate until you reach that time threshold before pursuing a divorce.
What Happens in a Legal Separation?
Legal separation typically begins when you and your spouse are living apart and one of you files a petition for separation in court. The legal process is very similar to that of a divorce, in that you and your spouse will have to reach a resolution on several important issues, including:
- Child support: If you have children, you will need to create arrangements during your legal separation to ensure that both parents continue to contribute financially to your children’s needs. The calculation of support obligations depends on the state where you reside, and it is often based on both parents’ incomes and the time the children will reside with each parent.
- Custody and parenting time: You will also likely need to create a parenting agreement that outlines how you will divide parenting time and responsibilities during your legal separation. This includes the schedule of time spent in each parent’s home, as well as responsibilities for making decisions regarding the children’s health, education, and religious upbringing.
- Spousal support: Spousal maintenance or alimony is not necessary in every legal separation, but you may have a case for receiving it if your income and earning potential are significantly lower than that of your spouse, and you will have difficulty maintaining your accustomed standard of living while separated.
- Division of property: If you expect your legal separation to be temporary, it may not be necessary to arrange for the division of property. However, if you believe it will be a long-term solution, you can negotiate an equitable distribution of assets and debts just as you would in a divorce, ensuring that each spouse has the resources they need for a stable life.
Many couples pursuing a legal separation are open to negotiation and cooperation, which can pave the way for mediation and other collaborative approaches. This can help you reduce stress, preserve privacy, and save time and money that you might otherwise have to spend on a divorce trial.
A legal separation can continue as long as you and your spouse are satisfied with the arrangements. If you can work through your issues, your separation may end with a reconciliation. On the other hand, if you or your spouse decide that divorce is necessary, either of you can file a petition to dissolve your marriage at any time. This is especially important if you want to remarry someone else, as you cannot legally do so until your current marriage is officially dissolved.
Legal separation is not for everyone, and it is often not a permanent solution, but it could be the best choice for you based on your current situation and needs. When you have questions about the legal separation process or need guidance regarding your legal rights, an experienced Naperville family law attorney can be a valuable resource and a friendly ally.