A legal separation, also referred to as separate maintenance, means that the married parties no longer live together, but are still married. The difference between being married and being legally separated means the parties are still married with a legally binding agreement outlining issues such as support that is enforceable by the court system. A legal separation is often the middle ground between marriage and divorce.
Many people find a legal separation preferable to a divorce for financial reasons. These include:
- The parties don’t wish to divorce due to religious reasons
- To remain legally married until the ten-year deadline for certain Social Security benefits
- To remain legally married until the ten-year deadline for military pension enforcement advantages or a twenty-year deadline for PX and commissary benefits
- The parties wish to take a breather from the marriage but don’t wish to be responsible for the other’s debt during the break
- People also prefer legal separation over marriage for tax related benefits
The process for filing for a legal separation is essentially the same as for a divorce; however, once the parties receive a Decree of Separate Maintenance they are still married. If the parties wish to remain married without the terms of the decree of separate maintenance, they can seek to dismiss their legal separation case. If they wish to divorce, they must file further paperwork with the Court.
The filings have different requirements depending on the financial status of the parties and if there are minor children involved. Legal separations can become quite difficult and consulting an attorney is strongly recommended.