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There may be advantages to a legal separation before divorce

Sometimes, when a married couple in Washington initially separates, they choose to treat it as a trial separation, giving them the time and space needed to determine if they want to move forward with a divorce or whether there is a possibility of reconciliation. However, are there any advantages for a couple to simply remain separated, without ever moving forward with a formal divorce?

In some states, but not all, a legal separation is required before a couple can get a divorce. Besides that, though, for some people, finances dictate whether they will remain separated or divorce. They may need to save up the money to afford a divorce, or they may need some time to become individually self-sufficient financially before moving forward with a divorce. If a couple is older and has been married at least a decade, they may separate until they have met the 10-year threshold required for obtaining Social Security benefits, based on the other spouse's record.

Couples who also have separated, but not divorced, in some cases, can remain on the other spouse's health insurance plan. Of course, this cannot be an assumption -- some employers will consider a legal separation to be equivalent to a divorce for benefits purposes.

Finally, some couples may separate, but not divorce, so they can still file their taxes jointly. But, it is important not to assume that this will always be allowed. Tax law can be complicated, so speaking to an attorney may be necessary.

Of course, any couple who decides to separate should each consult an attorney and draw up a legal separation agreement. Such an agreement can address issues, such as property division, the allocation of debts, alimony and, if necessary, child custody and visitation and child support.

Without a formal written agreement, these issues could put a person at risk. For example, if debts have not been formally allocated to one spouse or the other, they both may be liable for them, even if they do not live together.

A legal separation can help couples sort out many of the divorce issues they may face ahead of time, streamlining the divorce process, if it comes to that. Of course, this is only a general overview of some advantages to a legal separation. Since each couple's situation is unique, should a couple want to learn more about seeking a legal separation versus a divorce may want to work with a family law attorney.

Source: Forbes, "Legal Separation or Divorce: Which is Better Financially?," Jeff Landers, Jan. 10, 2012

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