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Is Legal Separation a Good Alternative to Divorce?

Traditionally, the only legal alternative to getting a divorce was to stay married, with the illegal option being "find a way to get rid of your spouse." But more couples these days are choosing legal separation instead.

That means those couples are still officially married in the eyes of the law. But in day to day life, they aren't really together anymore.

Is that the right choice for you? It's hard to say, although your attorney might be able to give you better advice. What we can offer is some things to think about. For example:

  • Dividing property. A divorce will make you go through everything and divide it equitably. But in a legal separation, you and your ex will have to decide who gets what. If you can't agree, there's no courtroom alternative.

  • Child custody. For couples with children, figuring out custody and visitation is a big part of the process. If you're afraid your ex will try keep the kids away from you, legal separation isn't a great choice.

  • Ongoing support. Child support and alimony are two big parts of divorce that may not be included in a legal separation. Of course, you could include those things by writing up a legal separation agreement, but that's up to you and your ex.

  • Tax implications. For some people, the benefit of filing jointly is enough to make legal separation a great option. But check your state's laws on the topic. In some cases, legal separation may mean you'll have to file state taxes separately even if you file federal taxes jointly.

  • Insurance and Social Security. A spouse can generally get access to the other spouse's insurance and Social Security benefits. While getting a divorce may leave one person without coverage, a legal separation would solve that problem.

  • Religious concerns. How does your religion feel about divorce? If the answer is "not good," then legal separation may be the answer for you.

  • Remarrying. Legal separation may sound good to you, but do you have any hopes or plans to remarry in the future? Without finalizing a divorce, you won't be able to do that. But if that becomes an issue later, you could always file for divorce down the road.

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