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Are you considering a legal separation or a divorce?

Tis the season for holiday cheer, but unfortunately, also for holiday gloom for many couples. January is reportedly the most common month of the year for people to file for divorce. Perhaps people realize their holidays together with their spouse was not ideal; or maybe the disappointment of the holidays being over in January hits, along with the realization that you’re still not happy in your marriage; or maybe people decide to start the new year off with a clean start. Whatever the reason may be, many couples will unfortunately initiate the start of their separation next month.

Some couples flirt with the idea of a legal separation instead of a divorce, particularly if a divorce seems too daunting. Is this a viable alternative? It depends on your feelings and/or objectives. A legal separation can operate like a divorce in the sense of dividing property and debt obligations, issuing child custody and visitation orders, and any spousal or child support obligations. The process for obtaining a legal separation order is also similar to a divorce. So, why might you consider a legal separation?

The most common reasons couples may get a legal separation instead of a divorce are for health insurance purposes (being able to maintain insurance as a legal spouse), religious prohibitions against divorce, or being emotionally reluctant to legally sever the marriage. That is not to say that a divorce cannot still result. If one spouse files for legal separation, but the other would rather just divorce, then the court is highly likely to allow the divorce to go through instead.

If both spouses agree to the separation and are not ready to legally end the marriage, then a legal separation could help to ease the strife in the sense of allowing the spouses to live separately in a more structured manner as to who will live in their shared home and take certain property or expenses, or to provide a structured schedule to exchange the children. Also, it could alleviate any fears of being responsible for debts the other spouse may incur after the separation or having to share any acquired property with the other debt. If the spouses then want to proceed with a divorce, the terms could very much be similar enough to the legal separation terms that the divorce would be less contentious. You simply have to evaluate your and your spouse’s feelings and objectives to see which may work better for your situation.