In the United States, a separation is a term used in reference to the physical separation of a marital couple. Though, generally speaking, any married couple can separate due to marital problems, though it is a legal separation which is recognized by the courts and under applicable laws. Therefore, when the term separation is used, it is most likely done within the context of a legal separation.
What is a Legal Separation?
A legal separation, also referred to as a “judicial separation,” or “divorce a mensa et thoro,” is a legal process undertaken by a married couple to make a separation legally recognized by the courts and by applicable laws.
However, a legal separation does not mean dissolution of the marriage; under a legal separation court order, the couple will remain married and be recognized under law as a married couple. This means that the inherent rights, privileges, and responsibilities granted by a marriage contract are still legally enforceable.
Divorce vs. Legal Separation
A legal separation, unlike a divorce, does not end or dissolve a marriage. However, a legal separation is often times the first step for many couples that consider divorce in the future.
Under a legal separation, the couple will still be legally married, even if the couple will no longer live together and have begun separate lives.
It should be noted that a legal separation will often times deal with the same issues that are often addressed during a divorce, such as financial arrangements, division of assets and debts, as well as child custody and alimony.
Advantages of a Legal Separation
Even though a legal separation will prove to be quite similar to a divorce in the sense that not only involves the separation of a couple, but it often times will eventually lead to divorce proceedings, there are some apparent differences.
Typically, a legal separation is the legal procedure that is explored initially as a way for the married couple to make the proper arrangements in the case that the situation enters divorce proceedings. These arrangements will usually stem out of financial reasons, though arrangements for child custody and child and spousal support are also discussed and settled during a legal separation.
Because a legal separation does not put an end to a marriage, it allows for the couple to take a trial period of living separate lives, which allows for the individuals to truly consider if a divorce is the best possible option. Often times, a legal separation allows for couples to address any particular marital conflicts or problems without having to undergo a divorce, and thus, salvaging the marriage.
However, other reasons why a couple may decide for a legal separation rather than divorce are certain advantages that exist by maintaining the marriage. Typically, this situation will arise from financial benefits, though health benefits are also a common reason.
For many, the idea of divorce may conflict with certain religious beliefs, thus making a legal separation the only true option. Even though the couple will no longer maintain a married relationship, they will still be recognized as married by both the law and their religious beliefs.
In the case that divorce is the final outcome of a legal separation, the agreements made as per the legal separation will often times be carried over in the divorce settlement agreement, making divorce proceedings less complicated and less hostile.