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What is legal separation?

When couples start to think their marriage is near its end, sometimes they move to separate homes. This physical separation is not a status change in the eyes of the law.

Legal separation is a process that recognizes a new marital relationship and allows for continuation of some benefits while officially separating most financial and care giving elements.

In a legal separation, finances, property division, and child custody/support are determined in a binding agreement. Meanwhile, you continue to be legally married, so health insurance, taxes and inheritance hierarchies remain in effect. Legal separation varies by the state but, in Colorado, it's quite similar to divorce. In fact, it's a common precursor that eases that legal change later on.

Separation pros

There are different reasons why couples choose separation. For some, religion discourages divorce but separation allows a needed change of home life.

For others, financial benefits like the ability to maintain health care coverage helps the transition into a single lifestyle. The Post reports increased separation filings in recent years, notably during an economic recession and period of fiscal uncertainly for many.

When a marriage lasts for 10 or more years, the lesser earning partner will receive a boost in social security benefits, so couples nearing a tenth anniversary sometimes separate instead of divorcing to help their retirement benefits later in life.

The major effect of legal separation is the division of property, which means that financial decisions become independent. If a spouse accrues debt problems without a legal separation, you may be partially accountable even if you live separately. A change of legal relationship status removes these burdens.

Separation cons

In Colorado, division of property and care-taking of children is legally worked out in the process, meaning there is similar legwork as with a divorce, though it's often less stressful because of the finality of divorce.

A major negative associated with legal separation is that you cannot remarry. It's common for separated individuals to retain their separation long-term instead of divorcing. Whether separated for religious reasons or as a transition toward a later split, you can't fully move on until divorced.

Deciding if it's right for you

Relationship needs vary by the person and lifestyle. Many favor legal separation as a stepping-stone toward an amiable divorce. It creates a legal footprint for division of property while drawing out some of the financial responsibilities over time.

Separation agreements often transfer through divorce court without changes, meaning a divorce will move faster for separated couples than for those who wish to move from cohabitation directly to divorce.

An experienced family attorney can guide through the different statuses and costs to determine what fits your own needs. The state also provides online flowcharts and worksheets that detail the paperwork and financials of a separation.

Legal separation is exactly as the term suggests: it makes the married partners "legally separate" and free to pursue their own interests without fully clearing the slate.

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