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Legal Separation or Divorce: What's the Difference?

Before getting a divorce, many couples try some time apart in the form of a legal separation. It also seems that for some, the divorce never happens. They choose legal separation as a permanent option.

That might be related to costs, since getting a divorce can be expensive. Staying separated also allows those couple to reap the benefits of being legally married without being together.

If you're considering divorce, it might be worthwhile to stop and think about legal separation. Is it for you? Here are a few things to consider:

The Pros

The most obvious benefit for a legal separation is that you avoid the messy process of divorce. That alone is worthwhile to some couples who feel the process is too hostile or expensive, or both.

You also get to keep any benefits that a married couple would have. That might mean a break on your taxes for filing jointly. It could also mean a self-employed or unemployed spouse can stay on the other's health insurance plan.

The Cons

If you choose a legal separation, it means you're still married. That may not seem like a big deal now, but what if you want to remarry in the future? That won't be possible until you get a legal divorce.

Legal separation also means less security. At least in a divorce, everything is clearly laid out in terms of alimony and child support, division of assets, and custody.

In a legal separation, no one requires that you and your spouse sign anything or formally divide your assets. That can cause problems in the future if someone changes his or her mind.

What Should You Do?

No one can make the decision for you, but there are many factors to consider when deciding between divorce and legal separation.

In a marriage where there is a lot of property to divide or where there are children, the security of an official divorce may be important. But for simpler cases and ones where there are no plans to remarry, legal separation can suffice.

You can also get advice from your attorney as to which choice is right for you. Plus, if you choose separation, you can always change your mind and file for divorce.

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