One of the questions that is asked regularly of our divorce lawyer is, What is a legal separation? There is often confusion when it comes to understanding the differences between a legal separation and an actual divorce. Though legal separations are not recognized in all states, it is a common legal process and can be of benefit to some couples under certain circumstances. If you would like to know more about your legal options for ending your marriage, contact a law firm to speak with a divorce lawyer.
What are the differences between a legal separation and a divorce?
Though divorce may be your ultimate goal, a legal separation can often bridge the gap between marriage and the final divorce. When a couple is legally separated, from the Court’s standpoint, they are still married. Once the divorce is finalized, the marriage is legally over. There are other important differences between a legal separation and a divorce and they include:
· Marriage to another person. When you are legally separated, you cannot marry another person as you are still married. Once the divorce is finalized, you are free to remarry.
· Healthcare, death and retirement benefits. Because you are still considered married to your spouse, you retain your eligibility to receive spousal benefits that are available to you and which may include healthcare, death, and retirement benefits. Should they pass away before the divorce is finalized, you may also be eligible to collect their social security and life insurance benefits.
· Medical and financial decision-making powers. Because you are still considered the spouse and next of kin, you have the power to make critical financial and medical decisions on their behalf should they become physically or mentally incapacitated. Once you are divorced, you will no longer be considered their next of kin.
· Remarriage or reconciliation. Divorce is final, and should the two of you decide that ending your marriage was a mistake, you would have to remarry. However, if you merely obtained a legal separation, your divorce lawyer can simply file a petition with the Court to revoke the legal separation and it will be as if you were never even separated.
· Rights to inherit property. If you are legally separated, both of you retain rights to inheriting the property of the other spouse should they pass away. Once the divorce is final, unless other arrangements were made in a will or trust (within certain guidelines that your divorce lawyer can explain more fully), you will not automatically inherit their property.
· Liability and debt. During the divorce process, the distribution of debt and liability will be outlined as to which spouse is responsible for each debt or liability. In a legal separation, the debt and liability of each are determined just as it was before the legal separation was mandated by the Court.