Legal separation and divorce are two options for married couples who wish to part ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 34 percent of marriage relationships ended in divorce as of 2011, making this an increasingly significant issue. Legal separation offers married couples with serious relationship issues an opportunity to separate, just as they would in a divorce, but without the legal finality provided by a divorce. This provides a number of benefits to spouses and families.
Since legal separation resembles divorce so closely, the main difference – and benefit -- comes from the fact that legal separations can be reversed, reuniting reconciled spouses without requiring them to remarry. Legal separations allow spouses to gain a full understanding of what it is like to live without the other in their lives. This experience can often lead to a finalized divorce, but there is always the possibility that a separation can strengthen a relationship in the long run.
Divorce can have far-reaching effects on children's emotional health. A legal separation allows spouses to spend some time apart without turning children's lives upside down. Children do not have to witness the potentially long, emotional and stressful divorce process, shielding them from the ugly side of a failed marriage. Children do not have to deal with the psychological ramifications of name changes in the family unit, either, allowing them to still experience a tight family bond, even though their parents do not live under the same roof.
A legal separation can be less costly than a divorce in the long run, especially when both parties agree to the separation. In states that recognize them, obtaining an order for legal separation only requires a petition signed by both parties and filed in county court, as well as a signed agreement stipulating the division of property and provisions for child support and other financial support. Divorce battles, more often than legal separation cases, can be hostile. This can rack up large attorneys' fees and court costs. If both spouses agree to petition for a separation, the process can be completed without an attorney's assistance.
The simplicity of the legal separation process can have benefits outside of the relationship and family issues. Obtaining a legal separation generally does not disrupt life and work the way a divorce battle can. Both spouses can continue to function normally in their daily lives without the stress, emotional turmoil and time requirements that can come with drawn-out divorce cases.