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Is marital separation a viable option?

Divorce is expensive, even if you own few assets. You need to pay the court fees (which aren't waivable in most places), you probably need to pay a little money to sort out who gets what, and then there are other ancillary costs (getting to and from the court, parking, etc.). Altogether, it can cost $1,000 to divorce, even if it is uncontested and you own very few assets. In response, some people are considering marital separation as an alternative to divorce. This post will go over the pros and cons of marital separation.

A recent study found that around 15 percent of separated couples never finalize their divorce. The study noted that the vast majority, 80 percent, eventually filed for divorce within three years. The researchers discovered that the majority of people who never finalize divorce some from lower socio-economic backgrounds and are thus, perhaps, less financially capable of ending their marriage.

Permanent separation is an option that is available to many couples, but it should be fully understood before you enter into it. Separation does not mean you are divorced, you may (eventually) file separate taxes, but you can never file as single (except under narrow circumstances). That means you will probably have to file joint taxes or accept the penalties that come with filing as married but separate status.

Additionally, people who remain separated but not divorced remain liable for one another's debts, including debts since the separation. You also may not marry a new person until you divorce. In short, there are many disadvantages to permanent separation.

Separation is a viable option, but it comes with a set of risks and divorce issues. If you are considering the merits of divorce vs. separation, you should probably consult with an attorney. Separation, as stated above, continues to tether you to your spouse, so you need to go into that arrangement understanding all of your ongoing obligations. A lawyer can walk you through those obligations, to ensure you are not caught off guard.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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