Separation is a quite widely spread practice nowadays. When spouses do not want to reside together, but a legal divorce is not an option, they may choose to move apart and live their separate lives while still being officially married.
For some couples, separation is a chance to reevaluate their relations and reconcile, while for others, it is a sufficient confirmation of the decision to end their marriage irrevocably. Some spouses may enjoy living in separate households and consider it the only way to maintain adequate and healthy marital relationships.
Can husband and wife live separately without divorce? Separation may be arbitrary or legally authorized by state laws. However, even in the latter case, a separated couple is not safe from certain financial and legal risks and negative implications for everyone involved. Therefore, such a decision should be thoroughly thought through, and all the nuances should be carefully weighed to avoid unexpected consequences.
Let’s delve a bit deeper into the question “How does separation work?” and try to figure out the main reasons for this decision, its pros and cons, whether it really works, and what happens if you separate but never divorce.
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Why Couples Choose Separation Over Divorce?
Couples tend to choose separation over divorce, even when the marriage is broken, if they do not want to terminate their marital relations for good. Yet, each family has their own reasons for such a decision. Let’s consider several cases.
Some couples resort to voluntary temporary separation to sort things out when they experience a relationship crisis. You may say that they put their feelings to the test and start a probation period to see if they can mend the marriage. Divorce laws in some states even impose mandatory periods of long separation before divorce to prove that the marriage is irretrievably broken or to let spouses reconsider their relations and reconcile. Many couples succeed; they cool off, reevaluate their relationship, understand that they can’t live without each other, and get back together again.
Nowadays, people may choose a so-called Living Apart Together (LAP) – a relatively new trend in a relationship. Residing in different places while maintaining intimate relations may be a good option for couples who have not yet moved together or are forced to live in different cities or even countries. In fact, it proved to be a wonderful choice for those who do not want to annoy and be annoyed by each other and face everyday conflicts related to the daily family routine.
In the most severe cases, spouses may move apart when they find it unbearable to stay under the same roof, but official divorce is not an option due to a myriad of reasons. In such cases, the legislature in many states provides for a special procedure called “legal separation,” which presupposes the same division of assets, debts, and parental and other responsibilities while preserving the official status of your marriage. However, Florida is not one of these states.
Naturally, one may wonder why someone would decide to legally separate instead of divorcing if they are not going to reconcile and get back together in the future. There are some sufficient reasons for such a decision:
- Financial considerations. When you divorce officially, you lose a number of financial benefits a married couple enjoys. To preserve the status quo in this respect, spouses choose separation instead.
- Healthcare considerations. Many couples have shared healthcare insurance plans secured by one party’s job. After divorce, it terminates for the other spouse, putting them at a disadvantage.
- Religious considerations. Some faiths view marriage as something sacred while condemning divorce. Therefore, conventional and unwavering religious or even personal beliefs and values may prevent some people from divorce to avoid immoral actions and social stigma.
- Residency considerations. Sometimes, the reason to choose legal separation over divorce may be as simple as failure to meet the residency requirements of a certain state. If neither of the spouses has lived in the state long enough to be eligible to file for marriage dissolution with one of the local courts, they may choose a legal separation procedure, which often does not set out similar residency requirements.
- Reasonable doubt. The most trivial reason for legal separation is the fear of regrets afterwards and a hope for reconciliation in the future.
Legal separation is the most common judicial alternative to divorce. It’s not just a voluntary decision to move apart temporarily to test your feelings or live in different households for comfort purposes. This formal agreement, officially signed by the parties and the judge, sets specific terms for spouses who agree not to live together as husband and wife while still being officially married. Just like in a divorce, the court establishes orders on property and debt division, child custody and parenting time, child support, alimony, etc. However, the couple remains legally married, preserving common shared benefits and being unable to remarry.
Unfortunately, while legal separation may seem a perfect solution in many cases, Florida law does not recognize it or provide any mechanisms for its formalization. So, the only option for troubled spouses in the state is to move apart without any legal basis. Yet, the state law provides for filing an action to get child support and alimony, even for spouses who live separately without dissolution, as stipulated in Fla. Stat. § 61.09.
Nevertheless, when deciding if and how to live separately without divorce, considering all the drawbacks and benefits of separation is imperative.
Pros of Long-Term Martial Separation
The key benefit of staying married but separated is the preservation of the official marital status that grants certain advantages to the couple. Indeed, in this case, both can retain several legal and financial securities that they would be deprived of after divorce.
- Health Care
After divorce, joint healthcare coverage terminates for the spouse who was on the same plan. The issue may be especially critical if the affected party requires long-term care for their chronic condition without the possibility of getting beneficial healthcare insurance for themselves.
- Financial Benefits
Some military, pension, and Social Security benefits become available or increase only after a certain number of years in marriage. To meet this requirement, a couple may prolong this term with the help of legal separation. The same tactics may influence alimony award, duration, and amount since the court considers the length of the marriage, among other factors, when making such decisions. Besides, some military benefits available to both parties will terminate for a non-military spouse once their marital relationship ends.
- Tax Benefits
Joint tax filing provides an opportunity to claim certain credits and gain an increase in deductions only available to married couples. Single people cannot enjoy such advantages, which often comes as an additional shock after divorce.
- The House
The house acquired jointly in the marriage tends to be the family’s biggest asset, and the necessity to sell it may incur high financial losses for both parties. Since you remain officially married, you may preserve your family home and even continue living in it together to minimize the expenses. Therefore, you may be relieved from this kind of financial separation without divorce.
- Tryout before Divorce
For many couples in crisis, a long-term separation is a perfect opportunity to sort things out and see that divorce is not an option, which often saves a lot of marriages. This period helps them to understand that the benefits of staying together considerably outweigh the advantages of living apart, resulting in the reunification of a happy family. However, each situation is unique, and answering the question, “Is separation good for a marriage?” is only possible after trying it yourself.
Cons of Long-Term Martial Separation
Unfortunately, the financial disadvantages of legal separation may often outweigh its obvious economic benefits. Therefore, thorough consideration before making any decisions is critical.
So, what are the disadvantages of a legal separation?
- Lasting Debt
The problem is that if you separate but do not divorce, you share not only the benefits and insurance but debts as well. In case one of the spouses is not very diligent with debt payments, the other one may be seriously affected in a very negative way.
- Increased Alimony
If you plan a long-term separation with a subsequent divorce, you should take into account that the length and amount of alimony depend on each spouse’s assets, which may increase during this period. Consequently, spousal support payments awarded by the court in the future divorce can be much higher than they could be if you filed for marriage dissolution at once. While it would be beneficial for a lower-earning party, a better-off one may appear at a disadvantage.
- Family Dynamics
Some parents do not want to divorce in order not to hurt their children with the excessive stress and conflicts that this process entails. However, separated couples often move apart during this period. So, won’t it be even more confusing and emotionally stressful for kids to see their parents not living together while still being married? It may be quite challenging to explain the situation if they are too young or too rebellious to listen to any arguments.
- Practical Challenges
Many spouses start living a totally separate life when they agree to a long-term separation and can move to another city or even country without informing the other party. However, since you are still legally married, you may need their involvement in resolving issues related to your kids, assets, or liabilities. Consequently, challenges in locating and reaching the separated spouse for their immediate response will create serious troubles, especially if the matter is urgent.
- Remarriage Impossibility
Since your marriage has not been legally terminated, you cannot marry someone else, or you’ll be accused of bigamy. Even if you enter into serious relations with another person, you may be condemned for immorality or adultery by some very “concerned” third parties. So, it would be better to file for divorce to have freedom in arranging your personal life.
Chances of Reconciliation After Long-Term Separation
Despite the possible skepticism, examples of reconciliation after separation still exist, proving the likelihood of such an outcome. Although the official statistics and more or less grounded research are quite outdated, they can help us see the general picture.
The figures we found shed some light on the most pressing question: “Does separation lead to divorce or reconciliation?”
- Most resources on the topic tend to refer to the 1994 Howard Wineberg’s research, according to which, about 32% of separated women attempting to reconcile succeeded in doing that. Unfortunately, this 30-year-old data is too limited to only 506 white women, making this study ungeneralizable.
- A comprehensive National Survey of Families and Households was conducted from 1987 to 2003 in 3 waves. Its results show that among 3% of respondents who separated in 1989 and 1993, 81% managed to achieve reconciliation in marriage, while 1% divorced by 2003. Although this data is quite all-round and reliable, it is also rather outdated, prompting that a lot could change during the past 20 years.
- In her 2022 Psychology Today article, Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D., states that 10-15% of separated couples reconcile. Unfortunately, the scholar does not specify the source of such data.
- Back in January 2023, the North Carolina family law attorney Jonathan Jerkins argued in his blog post that 20% of spouses reconciled after separation but did not provide any sufficient evidence or reference to the official statistics.
- Finally, a market research and statistics cross-website Gitnux presents comprehensive data on the issue. According to it, 87% of separated couples divorce, 10-14% of them end up in long-term reconciliation, and 15% of the reconciled marriages get their second wave of separation within 3 years already. While the information was updated just a couple of months ago, it does not contain a single reference to the official sources that can prove the figures.
From the mentioned data, it can be concluded that the general chances of reconciliation after separation are about 15%. Of course, statistics is very subjective since much depends on every specific situation. Nevertheless, whatever your reason for separation may be, we hope you will get the best out of it.