At times, the differences in marital alliance increase to an extent wherein divorce seems to be the only way out. But, that's one option which is best left untouched, unless the chances of reconciliation don't exist at all. A much better way out is to try to work things out by giving each other enough space, and this is where legal separation comes into the picture.
Basically, it is a type of separation wherein the couple remains married in legal terms, but opt for separation and choose to live their separate lives on their own terms. Being married, but opting for separate lives; that may sound a bit confusing, and one has to go through some details to get a hang of this legal process.
What is a Legal Separation?
So, 'legal separation' is a legal process which allows a couple to opt for de facto separation without having to break the matrimonial alliance. Simply put, it is a legal provision which allows the couple remain legally married, while choosing their own separate lives. It is at times referred to as 'judicial separation' and 'divorce a mensa et thoro' ('divorce from bed-and-board').
While some sources refer to it as 'separate maintenance' as well, this term actually refers to financial arrangements post legal separation, and hence, should not be considered a synonym for the process. The process is initiated through court proceedings after which the permission is granted by a court order. As legal separation involves monitoring by the court, it is considered better than simply starting to live separately.
According to the United States Laws
The laws pertaining to legal separation, and the procedure involved, may differ from one country to another - and one state to another within a country. In the United States, this process is recognized by all states - except for Georgia, Florida, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Texas and Mississippi. Division of assets as well as debts, the custody of the child/children, support payment for either spouse, etc., are some issues which can be sorted out by resorting to legal separation. However, the assets and debts acquired by either of the two individuals involved in course separation are not considered to be a part of the marital estate.
What is the Purpose of Legal Separation?
Even though it is not stated so, the most prominent purpose of this concept is to give the married couple a last chance to see whether things can work out between them. Going by the judicial point of view, a couple is granted the permission to opt for legal marriage separation when the court is convinced that the couple can no longer get along, but they want to remain legally married in order to protect other interests - family, social, religious, or financial, which are of significant importance in their lives.
By opting for a legal separation, the couple protects these interests until they come to a conclusion that things cannot get better from here on, and opt to file for a divorce.
Legal Separation Vs. Divorce
Even though a stipulated period of legal separation is mandatory for filing divorce which, in turn, makes this type of separation a part divorce proceedings, one has to understand that two are different from each other. The foremost point of distinction between legal separation and divorce is the fact that divorce is an extreme measure which ends your matrimonial alliance - and results in severe implications on the lives of both individuals involved.
For instance, the health insurance cover, which continues in case of legal separation, is brought to an end by a divorce, and this in turn results in both individuals having to shell out more money for premium. Similarly, a person who is legally separated is not entitled to marry another person, and if he/she intends to do so divorce is a must. Legal separation doesn't lead to divorce, the latter has to be initiated explicitly if reconciliation is not possible.
At the end of the day, legal or judicial separation is believed to be a temporary solution for marital woes, wherein you are neither married nor divorced. It is virtually impossible to say whether separation of any sort is an ideal way out as circumstances tend to differ from one case to another. However, if you believe that separating from your spouse is the only way out of the prevailing circumstances, you should assess the legalities involved in your jurisdiction so as to make sure that the separation process best protects your interest.