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When is it better to legally separate rather than divorce?

Making the decision to end a marriage is one of the most significant choices in a person’s life. It can affect everything from where you live to your finances, and it will have a major impact on your children. For various reasons, you may be hesitant to file for divorce, even if you no longer want to continue your relationship with your spouse. Instead, you may determine it is better to seek a legal separation.

Legal separation is a process that allows you and your spouse to live separate lives while remaining legally married. You can have separate finances, share child custody and live in two different places, but you will remain a married couple. There are some benefits to this choice instead of a divorce, and you may want to explore this option before you make any permanent decisions.

During a legal separation

Because a couple remains married while legally separated, the following will remain true regarding what you and your spouse can do, the benefits you will have and what you cannot do:

  • You and your spouse can remain on the same healthcare plan or seek a joint care plan as long as you remain married.
  • As you have not yet terminated your marriage, the spouses will not be free to remarry.
  • No matter how long you have been living apart, you and your spouse can continue to make medical and financial decisions for each other in emergencies.
  • A spouse may be legally liable for the other spouse’s debt, even during a legal separation.
  • If one spouse dies during a legal separation, the other spouse may retain inheritance rights.

Of course, the main difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that you can reverse a separation. For religious, personal or financial reasons, you may not be ready to formally divorce. This option provides you the opportunity to have your own life, power over your finances and independence without having to make a potentially life-altering decision.

A formal agreement is necessary

If you and your spouse agree to legally separate, a formal agreement is critical. While you can simply choose to live apart, a carefully drafted agreement can help you protect your rights, making things simpler and avoiding confusion. If you do decide to divorce in the future, this agreement can be the foundation for your final divorce order. When considering a separation, you may find it beneficial to discuss this option with an experienced California family law attorney.

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