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Could a legal separation be better for you than divorce?

The old idiom, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” could also apply to couples who make a quick decision to divorce, then regret their hasty actions later.

Sometimes divorce is not the answer, at least not for the time being. A legal separation might be the better, near-term solution to your marriage problems.

What it means

If you and your spouse decide to divorce in California, one of you must have resided in the state for at least six months. Residency requirements do not apply in the case of a legal separation; it becomes effective as soon as the court orders it, and the couple remains married even though they will be living apart.

Why you might want one

Many people see separation as a cooling off period to get away from the conflict that is present in a marriage. It is a period of time to think, re-evaluate and decide whether you truly want a divorce. Also, if your religion does not allow divorce, a legal separation would allow you the freedom to go your own way but remain married. When a legal separation agreement is in place, you and your spouse can retain the same company health care benefits you have been enjoying, which could be very important, especially if one of you is not working.

When there are 10-year benefits

If you have been married for 10 years, you can receive certain Social Security benefits related to your spouse. If you are the spouse of someone in the military, a marriage of 10 years will enable you to receive benefits provided by the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act.

What it covers

The court order for a legal separation defines what it covers. For example, the order will set out the terms of the agreement you and your spouse have come to regarding child custody, child support and spousal support. It will also address property division. A legal separation is often a cautionary first step toward the possibility of divorce, and you can convert the separation agreement to a settlement agreement if divorce becomes necessary.

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