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Considering a split? Why a legal separation might be right

If you are thinking about ending your marriage, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices and decisions facing you. Should you file for divorce, dissolution or legal separation? Joint or sole physical custody? Joint legal custody? Child support, alimony, or a lump sum payment? Sell the house and divide the proceeds or keep it? Who should get the car, the piano, the jewelry?

While the answers to most of those questions will depend largely on your individual situation, your state of residence and what you and your spouse want out of the split, one decision is usually a relatively easy one: Whether to get a divorce or file for legal separation. Below, we will examine three justifications that are commonly used by spouses who choose legal separation over divorce.

A separation will allow us to save money by filing joint tax returns. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Some states issue a 'decree of separate maintenance' which effectively declares that you are not married for tax purposes. If your state does this, a legal separation may provide no tax benefits.

A separation will allow us to continue receiving health insurance and Social Security benefits. Some health insurance plans will cover legally separated, but not divorced, spouses. You will want to check with your provider to see whether this is the case. Social Security has a different set of rules. In general, Social Security benefits are available to a divorced spouse if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. Therefore, some couples will separate, but hold off on divorcing until after that 10 year mark.

A separation will comply with our religious beliefs. Some religions forbid divorce. In these situations, a legal separation will allow you to technically remain married, but live separate lives.

Source: Reuters, "3 Reasons to Get a Separation Instead of Divorce," Andrew Chos, Mar. 1, 2012

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