Reaching the end of a marriage is a painful and stressful time. There’s so much to consider, from child custody to division of the assets. Sometimes you might not know whether or not divorce is the right option.
That’s why some couples opt for divorce by separation. In other words, you try being legally separated for a while first, before deciding whether to move on to getting divorced.
Is divorce by separation a viable option for you? Let’s take a look.
Consider your motivation
There are many reasons to try being separated before getting a divorce. Some of the most common are:
- You’re not sure if your marriage is truly over. Some couples opt for a period of separation so they can test the waters and find out for sure if their marriage is truly over. Sometimes a period of separation only serves to highlight that yes, your marriage is finished. Other times it gives both parties a fresh perspective and can lead to reconciliation.
- You or your partner have ethical, moral or religious objections to divorce. In this case a period of separation can help you work through those issues. In some cases, the separation becomes long term.
- There are tax, insurance or other benefits to be gained by staying legally married although living apart.
- Negotiating a separation might be less stressful for some couples than going straight for a divorce.
There’s no right or wrong answer to deciding whether to separate first and think about divorce later. However, it’s a good idea to be honest with yourself and your partner about your motivation and eventual aims.
The emotional and psychological impact of separation
The emotional and psychological impact of separation is different for everyone. It’s a good idea to be prepared for the impact before you start your separation so you can put support systems and plans in place to help you through it.
Some of the common emotional and psychological effects of separation include:
- Feelings of guilt about ending the relationship, especially if you start seeing someone else.
- Loss and grief – even if your separation might eventually lead to reconciliation, there’s a sense of “how did it come to this?”
- Anger and resentment towards your partner, and sometimes towards yourself.
- A feeling of wanting to “repay” them somehow, which if left unchecked can lead to animosity and ongoing battles.
- Fear about the future, including panic about money worries and feeling overwhelmed at everything you have to take care of.
- Depression and a feeling of wanting to hide away – you might even feel ashamed of what is happening and not want anyone to know.
Be prepared for the effects now and acknowledge that you’ll need support and self-care practices to help you through your separation.
The pros of separating before getting divorced
There are several pros to having a trial separation before proceeding to divorce:
- As noted above, it gives both of you a chance to really work through your feelings and needs, and decide for sure whether or not your marriage is over, and what the healthiest way forward for you looks like.
- Keeping health insurance or benefits. Staying married can make sure both parties have access to the same health insurance and benefits. This can be particularly useful if one of you is listed on the other’s health insurance and would struggle to get good insurance benefits on your own. It is also possible to write healthcare / insurance benefits into an eventual divorce agreement.
- Social security benefits. You might be entitled to spousal social security benefits even after you divorce. This can be really useful if one of you has earned significantly less than the other. However, couples only qualify for this after ten years of marriage, so may choose to stay married long enough to get past the ten year milestone.
- The ten year rule also applies to receiving a share of military retirement pay, so staying married until you reach ten years might be a viable option if you’re a military spouse.
- For some couples, it’s easier to continue to share a household for a while so you can share expenses. In that case, it’s often easier to legally separate and lead separate lives, but retain a shared home.
- A legal separation agreement protects you against being charged with desertion or abandonment.
The cons of separating before getting divorced
As with any big decision, you need to weigh the pros and cons. The cons of separating before divorce include:
- You aren’t able to marry anyone else. That might not seem like a big deal right now, but you might change your mind when you meet someone else.
- If the end of your marriage has been particularly acrimonious, separation can feel like prolonging the suffering – you just want it all over with.
- Staying married could make you liable for your partner’s debt, and their spending could also affect your credit rating. If they’re having financial difficulties, divorce might be the best way to protect yourself from getting entangled.
- The higher earning partner runs the risk of being ordered to pay higher alimony rates than if you’d got divorced earlier instead of separating.
- Separation can feel like living in limbo, which makes it hard to rebuild your life.
Deciding to end a marriage is never easy. Every circumstance is different. Consider your situation, motivations and the pros and cons carefully so you can decide whether to separate prior to divorce.