You walk down the aisle with dreams of you and your new spouse laughing together in slow motion behind a white picket fence. Then life happens.

No one gets married expecting to get a divorce, but circumstances change and people change. If you’re at a point when your marital relationship is over, the next step is to take legal action. But what action should you take?

Divorce is far from your only option. In fact, a legal separation could be an option that gives you the best of both worlds: separate lives with certain benefits of marriage.

To help you make the right choice, here’s what you need to know about a legal separation vs divorce.

Legal Separation vs Divorce: What’s the Difference?

Most people think of a separation as a personal arrangement, but it’s a legal option as well. In fact, it’s more similar to divorce than you may realize.

In a legal separation, spouses go through most of the same negotiations as they would in a divorce. They make child custody arrangements, plan for child support, and negotiate spousal support. They even divide their property as they would in a divorce.

With a legal separation, you and your spouse are living completely separate lives. The only difference between this arrangement and a divorce is that with a legal separation, you’re still legally married.

Should I Get a Legal Separation or a Divorce?

Knowing the similarities between legal separation and divorce, you might ask, how do you choose one over the other? There are plenty of factors to consider and reasons you may choose either option.

Governmental Benefits

When a couple is married, they’re entitled to certain benefits from their state and federal governments. For instance, depending on your financial situation, your tax burden may be lighter if you and your spouse remain married.

Another common benefit couples consider is social security. If your spouse is receiving social security and they die while you’re still married, you can continue receiving their benefits.

This can be either a pro or a con for legal separation depending on your relationship with your spouse. If you get along well, they might want to stay legally married so you can collect benefits. If not, they may prefer a divorce because they don’t feel that you’re entitled to those benefits.

Moral or Religious Reasons

While “forever” is always the intention when people get married, some are more strict about it than others. Usually, for religious reasons, some people don’t believe in divorce.

In these cases, a legal separation can be the perfect middle ground. You and your spouse can live separate lives while retaining your commitment to stay married.

Insurance Purposes

Health insurance is a necessity for financial stability because you never know when a medical problem could crop up and cost you thousands. In many marriages, one spouse gets insurance through their employer and this insurance covers the whole family.

If you get a divorce, the other spouse can no longer use their ex’s health insurance. To avoid leaving the non-insured spouse on the hook for expensive private insurance, some couples opt for a legal separation instead.

This consideration is even more important if there are children involved. Let’s say a couple consists of a working spouse and a stay-at-home parent. The stay-at-home parent has a child from a previous relationship.

Because they’re married, that child is a dependent of the working spouse so the child can be on that spouse’s insurance plan. If the couple divorces, though, that is no longer the case. A legal separation can let the couple live apart while maintaining insurance benefits for the kids.

Potential for Reconciliation

Sometimes the reasons for deciding between a divorce and a legal separation hinges on the relationship. A couple may be trying to decide if they want to get a divorce, but still holding out hope that they can reconcile.

In cases like these, a legal separation can be a helpful step. It gives each spouse the opportunity to live apart and find out what life is like without their spouse.

However, if you are legally separated and you reconcile, you can reverse the separation. This is an easier process than it would be to get a divorce and remarry. 

Pension Retention

For couples who are among the few people still fortunate enough to have a pension, this can be a reason to choose legal separation over a divorce.

If your spouse is collecting a pension and they pass away, many pension plans are still payable to the surviving spouse. Some couples will choose legal separation rather than letting that money go to waste with a divorce.

Keep in mind that pensions vary. Some pensions are not payable to a spouse who is legally separated from the pensioner. If a pension is a factor in your decision, make sure to read the fine print before making any legal moves. 

Ability to Remarry

Part of your decision between a legal separation and a divorce could hinge on what you want for the future. If you choose a legal separation, you’re still married to your spouse on paper.

If you want to be free to marry someone else, you need to get a divorce before you can do that. This isn’t to say that you need to jump right to a divorce, though. Some couples start with a legal separation until one spouse is considering marrying someone else, and then they proceed with a divorce.

Making Your Next Move

“Divorce” is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of married couples everywhere. It’s not just the idea of a broken marriage that scares them, but the complex legal process and financial considerations.

In reality, moving on with your life can be a positive experience if you choose the right option. If you and your spouse are considering going your separate ways, weigh a legal separation vs divorce to find out what you really want.

If you’re ready to take that next step toward a divorce or a legal separation, contact our family law attorneys for help.