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Divorce vs. Legal Separation

Most married couples experience bumps in their relationship from time to time. While many issues can be resolved, there are some marital problems that may cause either one or both spouses to consider the possibility of ending the marriage.

There are some couples who will decide that divorce is the best option, while others may feel that the issue is repairable and decide to stay married.

There are also couples who are unsure what they want to do next. They may feel that they need to take a break from living together but are unsure if that break should be a permanent one. In these situations, a trial separation can be helpful. Anyone who is considering a trial separation should consider speaking to a Rhode Island family lawyer about filing a legal separation in order to help avoid any potential issues while the couple is deciding what they want to do.

What Is a Legal Separation?

If a couple decides not to live together, there will likely be issues over how much parenting time each of them will get, who will remain in the family home, how bills will be paid, etc. A legal separation is an agreement that is approved by the court that will address these and any other issues between the couple. A legal separation often covers many but not all of the same issues that are addressed in a divorce, but the couple will still be legally married.

In order to obtain a legal separation, one spouse will file a petition with the family court and the other spouse will file a response. It is recommended that both spouses have their own attorneys representing them to ensure that any agreement is fair for both parties.

Some of the issues that are covered in a legal separation include:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Marital assets, property, and debt
  • Spousal support

Ideally, the couple will reach an agreement between the two of them as to how each issue will be addressed. If they cannot come to an agreement, the court will make the final decision for them.

Should the couple eventually decide to divorce, some of the final decisions in their legal separation can be incorporated in their divorce agreement, such as child custody and support. Other issues that are not usually included in a legal separation, such as division of property, retirement accounts, and/or other assets may still need to be negotiated for the final divorce decree.

Permanent Legal Separation

In some cases, a couple may decide that they do not want to live together, but they also do not want to file for divorce. For example, a couple’s religion may not allow them to divorce, but they no longer want to live together as a married couple. There are also certain benefits that a couple who are legally married can take advantage of that a divorced couple cannot, such as one spouse being covered under the other spouse’s work health insurance plan.

A permanent legal separation will provide each spouse with all the financial and parental protections of a divorce, but also provide the benefits that married couples can enjoy. It is important to note, however, that as long as a couple is legally married, neither one can marry anyone else, regardless of how long they have been legally separated.

Are You Considering Divorce?

If you and your spouse are having marital problems but you are not sure if you are ready to file for divorce and end your marriage, a legal separation can give you the time and opportunity to see if you will be able to work through these problems, but also provide you with legal protections in the event things do not take a turn for the better. A Rhode Island divorce attorney can evaluate your situation and explain what legal options may be the best ones for your situation. Call Kirshenbaum Law Associates at 401-467-5300 for a confidential consultation.