While the laws differ among the states, where it is available, legal separation is an attractive alternative to divorce for certain couples and their life and family circumstances. In states that do not legally recognize a legal separation, there are creative workarounds to accomplish the same goals.

When two people divorce, they sever all legal connections as well as rights, duties and assets. If, however, the couple desires to be legally separated, they remain married but their assets and rights to money and property are divided, as well as issues regarding child custody, visitation and support are determined. A divorce lawyer can help explain these situations.

To better understand why a legal separation is preferred by some, we will use the example of Bob and Sue and their twin daughters, a fictitious family facing several dilemmas. Bob has a job opportunity out of state and Sue does not want to move their children, one of which is autistic, from their lifelong home, friends and family. Do they get divorced or file for legal separation?

Staying married but being legally separated is right for some people.

Moral and religious reasons concern Sue, a devout Catholic, and if she gets divorced she may not remarry in the church. Bob does not know how long his job out of state will last and Sue knows she does not want to divorce him and wants to preserve the family despite Bob insisting on taking the out of state job knowing that Sue and the girls cannot go.

Insurance, tax and social security benefits for married people are significant. Even with Bob’s new high paying job, the financial loss of married status would significantly affect the family.

Why would you want to stay married but live apart?

Being legally separated and having your finances separated may be an attractive option to Bob and Sue so they both have certainty as to monthly finances and budgeting.

Sue’s desire to save her relationship with Bob is also important to her as she believes the stress of having a special needs child has caused stress on Bob that he might overcome one day. Sue is not ready to call it quits.

With significant stress and burdens on the family, a legal separation may be easier than divorce. If after a period of years when their daughters are adults, and if Bob and Sue decide to divorce at that time, it may be more practical for their situation.