What Happens if You Are Separated for 14 Years but Never Got Legally Divorced?

By Beverly Bird

No state requires spouses to live together while married. The marital contract isn’t dependent on couples sharing the same roof. Unless you or your spouse files a legal document with the court, such as a settlement agreement to finalize a legal separation, the court isn’t aware that you’re no longer residing as a married couple.

Legal Separation vs. Informal Separation

The issues involved in remaining separated for 14 years, without proceeding to a divorce, depend on whether you ever formalized your separation. In states that recognize legal separation, your separation decree most likely addresses all issues between you, such as custody, support and marital property. If this is the case, you remain married in name only. However, seven states -- Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Florida -- do not recognize legal separation at the time of publication. If you live in one of these jurisdictions and you have not filed for divorce, your marriage continues just as if you still lived together. The same applies if your state recognizes legal separation, but you never took advantage of that to file a separation agreement with the court and receive a separation decree.

Adultery Issues

Even if you live in one of the 43 states that recognize legal separation, and even if you have a legal separation agreement filed with the court, you are still legally and technically married. If you become romantically involved with someone other than your spouse, that is adultery. If you should decide to divorce at some point, and the process is contentious, it’s conceivable that your spouse could use your adultery against you. Some states weigh marital misconduct when deciding issues such as alimony and property distribution. If you live in one of these jurisdictions, and if your divorce gets ugly, your spouse could use your adulterous relationship to try to tip issues of property and alimony in his favor.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Property Issues

State laws vary a great deal regarding marital property. In some states, marital property is everything acquired from the date of the marriage to the date one spouse files a divorce complaint. This includes both assets and debts. If you live in one of these states, and if you have not filed for a legal separation, you remain jointly responsible for any debts your spouse runs up. Your spouse is also entitled to his share of any property you acquire on your own during your informal separation. When one of you files for divorce and asks a court to distribute marital property, some states will look at the circumstances and acknowledge that you did not intend to remain married after 14 years apart. In this case, the financial impact of staying married for so long without a legal agreement in place might be mitigated. The court might mark the cutoff date for acquired marital property and debt as the time you established separate residences.

Marital Rights

Some upsides exist to long-term separation without a divorce decree. For example, one spouse can continue coverage on the other’s health insurance policy. This is usually true even if you have filed for a legal separation. You can also collect Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s contributions if you have remained married for 10 years or more without divorcing.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Can You Be Legally Divorced After Five Years of Not Living Together?

References

Related articles

How to Separate in a Marriage

Divorce isn't for everyone--at least not immediately. For any number of reasons, spouses might want to live separately for a while before taking the final step to officially terminate their marriage. Depending on where you live, there may be more than one way to do this. Some states recognize legal separations, but a few don't, including Texas, Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. This doesn't mean you can't separate if you live in one of these states. It just means courts in these states will not issue a judgment of separation, so you'll have to create a separation agreement instead.

How Do I File for Divorce?

The road from deciding you want to end your marriage to beginning the actual legal process can be a bumpy one. Many of your early decisions can impact the entire proceedings and determine whether your divorce is amicable or a hard-fought battle. Although the legal process of filing a divorce petition and serving it on your spouse is similar from state to state, the steps you take to get to that point can vary depending on your personal situation.

Does Separation Time Count in Divorce

The length of time you and your spouse are separated can play a part in your divorce proceedings under some circumstances, but in other cases, it doesn't matter at all. It depends entirely on where you live, and if you want to – or even can – file for divorce on fault grounds.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Michigan No-Fault Divorce Law

Michigan is a true no-fault divorce state; you cannot receive a divorce on any other grounds. There aren't any fault ...

Required Period of Separation in Wyoming for Divorce

Wyoming makes divorce relatively easy, at least when it comes to the grounds on which you can file. It's a no-fault ...

What Are the Laws When Separating From a Spouse in Connecticut?

Connecticut recognizes that sometimes spouses want to go their separate ways, but not actually divorce. It’s one of a ...

Is Inheritance a Marital Asset in Florida?

If you are getting a divorce in Florida, the property you and your spouse own together -- the so-called marital assets ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED