July 15, 2018

Legal Separation – What, Why and Why Not

Legal Separation – What, Why and Why Not

 For some people, a legal separation under Connecticut law is a useful alternative to a divorce.  A legal separation is, for all practical purposes, like a divorce except that neither spouse is free to remarry and both spouses are free to live separately.  Why would a person choose a legal separation rather than a divorce?

Like a divorce, a legal separation must be obtained by court judgment.  Also as with a divorce, the judgment will include financial orders, such as alimony, child support, division of assets, and responsibility for debts.  The legally separated spouse has the same protections as the divorced spouse.

  • Assets received as part of the judgment are protected from the other spouse and can’t be reached by creditors of the other spouse.
  • Payment obligations and other obligations are enforceable by the court’s power of contempt.
  • In addition, alimony and child support can be enforced by wage withholding.
  • If there are minor children, the court will determine custody and access or visitation.

Unlike divorce, legal separation doesn’t end a marriage.  The spouses are still spouses.  For several reasons, a person may want to retain the status of being married.  Legal separation

  • Can be attractive to people who oppose divorce on religious or moral grounds.
  • May allow a legally separated spouse to take advantage of certain benefits of remaining married, such as social security, inheritance, or pensions.
  • Sometimes permits a legally separated spouse to continue receiving uninterrupted health insurance coverage through the other spouse without costly premium increases for continuation of coverage.

Unlike divorce, legal separation isn’t necessarily final.  Couples who reconcile can easily return to court to have the legal separation undone or reversed as if it never happened.  It’s also usually quick and simple for legally separated spouses to obtain court approval to change the legal separation over to a divorce without the need to “start all over again”.  This flexibility is often attractive to a spouse whose husband or wife has a substance abuse, gambling or chronic infidelity problem.  That spouse can give their spouse another chance while having the protection, consistency and reliability that court orders can provide.

But legal separation isn’t for everyone.  Here’s why:

  • In Connecticut legal separation isn’t a shortcut to divorce. It isn’t any faster, easier or less expensive than divorcing since essentially all the same court procedures, rules and laws apply.  If you know you will eventually divorce, legally separating first probably doesn’t make sense.
  • In some unusual cases, if there have been significant changes in circumstances of one or both spouses, such as their earnings or health, converting the legal separation may involve adjustments to the legal separation financial orders which can be complex, expensive, and time consuming.
  • And the obvious one, legally separated spouses can’t marry again without first getting divorced.

The bottom line is that while legal separation isn’t the right choice for every unhappily married person, it may be a good option for you.  An experienced divorce attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons so you can choose the best path for you and your own personal situation.

 This article was originally published in the July 12, 2018 edition of The Cheshire Citizen, an RJ Media Group publication.



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