Legal Separation versus Divorce
When people are hesitant about the divorce process, or either spouse is not wholly committed to the idea of divorce, they may explore the option of legal separation to define their rights and obligations while they are experiencing marital difficulties. Alabama law recognizes and allows legal separation when a married couple enters into a separation agreement, and it is approved by a family court.
A separation agreement may cover just about anything that a divorce agreement would cover, including child custody, child support, spousal support, control of the home, obligations to pay bills or debts, and insurance payments. These terms will carry over into any subsequent divorce, with two exceptions―child and spousal support and issues involving child custody remain within the jurisdiction of the court and can be changed later (even after divorce) if the court determines that there has been a material change in the parties’ circumstances.
A legal separation can be dissolved at any time by the simple filing of a joint motion to dismiss on the grounds that the spouses have reconciled. Likewise, either party can file for divorce at any time while legally separated.
Reasons for Legal Separation instead of Divorce
There are several reasons for proceeding with a legal separation rather than a divorce, including:
- Health Insurance Concerns – In many marriages, one spouse provides health insurance coverage for the other spouse through his or her employment. A legal separation allows both parties to remain insured even though their marriage is no longer functional.
- Religions Concerns – Couples with religious objections to divorce may circumvent these concerns by getting a legal separation instead.
- Social Security & Pension Benefits – Married couples may delay formal divorce until they have been married long enough to qualify for certain Social Security and pension benefits.
- Trial Separation – Some couples hope to eventually reconcile their differences, but recognize that they currently need to spend time apart. In such cases, a legal separation is helpful for addressing issues such as child custody and support.
Whatever the reasons for legal separation, having a clear set of agreed terms is an important tactic for reducing the possibility of disputes later on. Reaching common ground on such terms, however, can be difficult when a couple is having marital issues. An experienced family law attorney can provide clear guidance through the legal separation process, while ensuring that your rights and interests are protected.
Contact an Experienced Alabama Family Law Attorney
Alabama family law attorney Lana Hawkins helps clients consider all of their options when it comes to resolving marital issues, including guiding clients through legal separation. If you live in the Huntsville-Decatur area and are considering divorce or separation, contact The Hawkins Law Firm in Guntersville, Huntsville, and Arab, Alabama to discuss your unique situation.