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Legal Separation As An Alternative To Divorce

Relationships between spouses are often exceedingly complex. From a major career promotion and birth of a first child to the death of a parent and the diagnosis of a serious illness, as life changes, so does a marriage.

Throughout the life of a marriage, it's not uncommon for spouses to grow apart and realize that they no longer share common interests or life goals. In many cases, these marriages end in divorce. For some couples, however, legal separation is a better option.

Why Choose Legal Separation?

Spouses, who choose to separate rather than divorce, remain legally married. This means that, while a separated couple may choose to live apart, they continue to reap the financial rewards associated with a marriage with regard to taxes and insurance.

Shared financial benefits are often a driving factor in many legal separations. For example, a married couple may no longer wish to live together, but also do not want to suffer the financial, and personal, drawbacks that can come with divorce. Additionally, some couples may choose legal separation while they attempt to reconcile or for religious reasons. Regardless of why a couple decides to legally separate, it's important to clearly define each spouse's role(s), responsibilities and obligations in a separation agreement.

What To Include In A Separation Agreement

Spouses who choose to legally separate would be wise to discuss and come to an agreement about the following important matters:

  • Child custody and visitation -- Which parent will retain primary physical custody? What about decisions related to a child's education and medical care?
  • Child support -- Will child support payments be made? If so, in what amount?
  • Mortgage payments and other bills -- Who assumes financial responsibility for mortgage payments, car payments and other shared bills?
  • Debt -- Who is responsible for paying off credit cards and other debt?

These are just a few of the issues that are important to consider and address in a separation agreement. An agreement should be tailored to account for a couple's specific personal and financial circumstances and goals.

How An Attorney Can Help

Having a mutually-beneficial separation agreement that both spouses agree to honor, is in the interest of both parties. In the event that one spouse fails to abide by the terms set forth in a separation agreement, the other spouse can turn to the courts to enforce the agreement. To minimize conflict and stress, it's wise to seek out the advice and assistance of an attorney who can make sure that a separation agreement is comprehensive and, if necessary, will hold up in court.

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