Legal Separation

What is a legal separation?

Separation from bed and board is a court-ordered arrangement whereby a married couple live separately, leading a separate life. Legal separation is a popular alternative to divorce when the parties are unsure of the state of their marriage but wish to establish financial limits and responsibilities such as separation of property, custody of dependents and alimony for children. However, for those wishing to divorce, legal separation may be necessary before a judge grants a divorce.

Key points to remember

  • Legal separation is a court-ordered agreement in which a married couple live separately, usually living separately.
  • The order of the separation court may specify financial obligations, custody and access agreements for children and child support.
  • Separation from bed and board is preferable to divorce for some people because of religious beliefs, financial reasons and for the benefit of minor children.
  • Separated spouses may be entitled to certain benefits, although legally separated.

How a legal separation works

While the reasons for requesting legal separation vary, there are a few that are worth noting. Some religions prohibit married couples from divorcing; legal separation grants most of the benefits of a divorce without compromising religious principles. In addition, those who are not sure of their marital future can opt for legal separation in the hope of reconciliation. Couples with minor children often cite that legal separation is more ideal for their children than divorce. Although the parents function as a separate unit, the family can stay together, for the most part maintaining stability and order. Some other reasons to opt for this arrangement are to keep health and retirement benefits.

Many couples choose to separate without a court order because it is simpler and avoids costly legal proceedings. The growing trend towards informal separations and faultless divorce is making the process of formal legal separation increasingly rare.

Once the effective date of separation is determined, it freezes the spouse’s ability to freely spend money from a credit card or joint bank account. It also limits control over other assets such as properties and vehicles.

Each spouse becomes legally liable for their debt after the date of separation.

It is important to treat a legal separation as seriously as a divorce, as both are court orders, containing duties and obligations that each party must legally comply with. If the couple later divorces, the judges can take into account the details of the separation agreement when deciding on a divorce

Benefits of legal separation

For some, reaching their 10th anniversary is a monumental occasion, but it is also an important step when future benefits are affected. If you decide to separate, a legal separation may keep the rights to benefits intact. For example, military spouses must remain married for a decade to take advantage of the benefits of the Uniformed Service Spouses Protection Act.

In addition, staying married for at least 10 years means being able to benefit from certain social security benefits from the spouse. If at retirement your spouse will benefit from more social security than you, it is advantageous to stay married for at least 10 years so that you can withdraw a larger sum by using your spouse’s social security retirement.

Despite the pain of separation, legal separation sometimes makes sense when a divorce is not. For example, a legal separation may be temporary, while a divorce is permanent. Some couples legally separate when trial separations do not work. It may be the last attempt to save their marriage.

In addition, legal separation is often more profitable than divorce, and many parents find that their children are better able to adapt to a divorce if they separate legally first.

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