What is the Difference between Legal Separation and Divorce?
Not all troubled marriages end in divorce. This process is the final legal decree between a couple to permanently end or dissolve their union. However, depending on the circumstances, divorce may not be the best or only alternative for every couple seeking relief from the other, especially if there is still a salvageable emotional bond between the two.
An alternative to permanently ending the marriage may be a legal separation, which is by far less disruptive to the marriage. The separation decree allows spouses to live apart from one another for a period of time, without legally ending the marriage.
However, a legal separation will still require the parties to reach a mutual agreement concerning important including child custody, financial obligations, and visitation rights. Moreover, these issues would require legal representation.
Benefits of Legal Separation
By definition, a legal separation is nothing more than a “time-out, an intermission or a pause,” within the marriage. This allows each couple to reassess their options. In some instances, a couple may mutually consider seeking marriage counseling to determine if the issues within their marriage can be resolved or are beyond repair.
In some instances, a spouse may not be entirely sure if they want to end the marriage just yet, preferring instead to live apart for a while and figure out the best course of action.
A legal separation also insures that both parties retain their health insurance coverage without interruption. Depending on financial and family obligations, a legal separation may ensure that both parties retain their designated responsibilities within the marriage, especially where children are concerned. For example, if one spouse works and the other is the caregiver at home, a legal separation ensures, to some degree, a sense of stability concerning those obligations while living apart.
Also, couples married for over 10 years can favorably take advantage of each other’s Social Security benefits. This is the reason why many couples married for less than 10 years choose legal separation as a temporary option.
A legal separation can also easily transition into a divorce settlement agreement, in that stipulations agreed to within the legal separation process can convert smoothly into a divorce decree if a couple ultimately chooses to end the marriage.
Benefits of Divorce
The fundamental differences between legal separation and divorce is that divorce legally “terminates a marriage” forever. However, that does not absolve the legal responsibilities of each spouse mandated by the court, such as child custody, visitation rights, child support, and alimony.
Divorce also insures that property rights can be divided based on the couple’s current situation and their relationship to that property, especially if there are children involved. A court, however, may decree that a home (property) must stay intact for the welfare of the children.
In most instances, former spouses are no longer responsible for the debts and liabilities of the other.
In Illinois, couples must live separately and apart for minimum 6-months before a court will consider accepting a divorce case.