A legal separation is similar to a divorce in all significant respects; it is a final disposition of the division of the marital assets and debts, formulation of a parent plan for the children, payment of child support and payment of spousal maintenance, if applicable. Like a divorce, once the legal separation agreement is signed by the parties it is binding, final and fully enforceable. However, unlike a divorce, at any point in time after it is granted, the parties may ask the court to dissolve the order for legal separation if they wish to remain married.
In a legal separation there are several, and perhaps for some divorcing parties significant differences from a divorce. In a legal separation, since the parties remain legally married, one may remain on the other’s medical insurance. Where the prohibitive cost of medical insurance is problematic for the non-employee spouse, remaining on a spouse’s medical insurance coverage can be an important consideration. In a legal separation the parties may also file a joint tax return and, of course, they may not remarry while legally separated.
Finally, when the step to divorce may be too steep for the parties’ emotional readiness, they may wish to take the symbolically lesser step of legal separation. At any point in time after the legal separation is granted, either party may refile a divorce petition and obtain a divorce. In doing so, the agreement they made in regard to the legal issues remains binding and need not be revisited.