LEGAL SEPARATION ALLOWS THE PARTIES TO ENJOY CERTAIN BENEFITS OF MARRIAGE THAT THEY WOULD LOSE IN DIVORCE
Legal separation allows spouses to live apart and conduct their lives very much as if they were divorced, but keeps the marriage legally intact. This may be desirable for a number of reasons.
In some cases, the parties may feel divorce is inevitable but they are not emotionally prepared to dissolve the marriage. Separation gives them a chance to see what divorce will be like, but still leaves the door open for reconciliation.
In other cases, the parties cannot divorce due to cultural or religious prohibitions, but legal separation is considered to be an acceptable compromise.
And in still other cases, legal separation allows the parties to enjoy certain benefits of marriage that they would lose in divorce, such as health care coverage. The anticipated period of separation may be indefinite, as when one spouse has long-term health problems that will make it difficult to ever obtain affordable coverage, or it may have an end-date, such as when the spouse is expected to re-enter the workplace and obtain their own coverage.
When a legal separation is indefinite, it is “unlimited.” When it is set to expire on a given date, it is “limited.” Either way, pleadings must be filed with the court similar to those filed in a divorce, and a judgment is entered that addresses many of the same issues. The terms of the judgment regarding matters such as property division, custody and support are just as binding as if the parties were divorced, and may be enforced in the same way.
As with divorce, one party may file for legal separation even if the other party doesn’t want it. Either party may still file for divorce at any time, and within two years of entry of a judgment of legal separation either party may convert the separation to a divorce. Usually when a legal separation is converted to a divorce the settlement terms remain the same.