Marriage is difficult. Even our dearest interpersonal relationships are challenges that require the daily and active work of both spouses. When that hard work falters, or even when circumstances beyond your control impose unforeseen strain, it can be best for two partners to go their separate ways. Divorce has grown far more common over time, but it needn’t be the only solution to a marriage that is facing great difficulty. Legal separation provides an alternative to divorce that can provide preferable outcomes for many reasons. The reasons to pursue legal separation rather than divorce are numerous, spanning from practical to idealistic, from staving off divorce to readying for it.
Divorce is final, and though the tumult of a struggling relationship can make it seem as if you’ve passed a point of return, one or both parties may believe in the possibility of reconciliation. A trial separation is often a precursor to a legal separation, during which time both spouses remain legally married with the intention to reassess their status down the road. A legal separation is similar to divorce in many respects, but lacks the permanence of divorce.
Preservation of Benefits
Marriages are legal partnerships as well as emotional ones, and the benefits we enjoy through civilian employment or military service reflect this. Because a legal separation preserves marriage, it can also preserve health insurance, tax benefits, military pensions, and immigration status. This makes legal separation a viable alternative to divorce, especially when preserving benefits is mutually beneficial for both spouses and their children.
Even in an increasingly secular society, religion looms large in many people’s lives. The proliferation of no-fault divorces has not changed the stigma against divorce and exists in many popular religious denominations. In order to avoid pressure from the couple’s religious community or leadership, living apart while remaining legally married can mitigate some of this stress.
Beyond religious pressure, even some tightly-knit social circles can look poorly upon legal divorces. In small towns, insular communities, and extended families, many couples feel great pressure not to seek or complete a divorce. While a legal separation allowing for reconciliation is similar in practice, it lacks the “scarlet letter” of divorce.
Precursor To Divorce
Sometimes, divorce is unavoidable. Even in those instances, a period of legal separation is mandatory in many states. Much as trial separations precede legal separations, legal separation must often precede divorce, making it a necessary reason to pursue legal separation, even if only as an intermediate phase. Many family courts insist upon this time to consider and plan before rushing into the finality of a divorce.