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What is a legal separation, and what are its benefits?

Legal separations are not the same as divorces, so they should be understood well before you agree to sign documents or negotiate your separation with your attorney's help. In fact, there are some benefits to legal separations and even to having these separations before getting a divorce.

Many couples separate when they intend to get a divorce or even when they may not be sure if they want one but need time apart. Some people take time with a legal separation to work toward reconciliation, while others decide it's time to divorce following the separation period.

The benefit of a legal separation is that the couple is living apart, and they have the chance to discuss matters like child custody arrangements, child support and property division ahead of a potential divorce. You may wish to legally separate instead of divorce based on your relation or the financial benefits of remaining married; legal separations allow your lives to be completely separate without breaking your vows.

It's true that you and your spouse can agree to the terms of a separation without a legal document; however, having a legal separation drawn up by your attorney can help you enforce the rights you've been told you have to child support or other property if the other person decides he or she wants to change the rules of the separation for any reason.

Legal separations won't end marriages, so those who want to be fully divorced should prepare to finalize a divorce in the future. However, you can use a legal separation to work out your finances and property division, so your divorce takes place more quickly when the time comes.

Source: FindLaw, "Legal Separation," accessed June 07, 2016

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