Definition of Separation

Separation is the action of couples living separately while remaining married. Separation could be a mutual separation, where a couple just lives apart; it could be a legal separation, where the couple has entered into a formal separation agreement; or it could be a trial separation, where a couple lives apart to decide if they want to separate permanently. Separation differs from a divorce which is a court judgment to terminate the marital contract.

Couples who choose to separate will eventually have to settle issues such as asset distribution, child support, child custody and spousal support if they do not reconcile. If a couple decides to outline the responsibilities of each spouse and protect their interest while determining if they want to file divorce they may enter into a separation agreement.

Experts warn that because a separation agreement may become the blueprint for a later divorce agreement it is important that couples seek legal counsel prior to its development to ensure they can live with its provisions if it were to become permanent. For instance, it is not unusual for a judge to assume that if each person was content with the separation agreement while they were separated they would also be content with the agreement following a divorce.

Why would a couple separate?

Divorce, although much more socially acceptable than it has historically been, is still viewed as wrong by some religions. Some couples will separate while they continue to “work on” their marriage in hopes of reconciling. Other couples will separate and not divorce to retain medical benefits which could be terminated after a divorce. Some couples will also remain married for a specified time period to accumulate enough time to get certain governmental benefits such as Social Security benefits.

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