The Chicago Family Law Blog

Considering Divorce? Think About Legal Separation

Marriages end for a variety of reasons, and when they do most people immediately think about divorce. But there's also the option of a legal separation.

By legal separation we don't mean the idea of taking some time apart to see how things go. That's what most couples do before they actually file for divorce.

A legal separation is a more permanent arrangement. It's what happens when people decide the romance in their marriage is over, but have reasons for not wanting a divorce. What reasons are there for staying legally married when you don't want to be together?

  • Financial benefits. Couples that choose legal separation are certainly saving money on the divorce process. They often have lower court costs and attorney fees. If one spouse is getting insurance or Social Security benefits through the other, that can continue during legal separation, but not after a divorce. Separated couples can continue filing their federal taxes jointly, which may be a financial boon too. However, in Illinois the couple would have to file separate state taxes, because the state sees them as separate individuals.

  • Personal beliefs. For some people, divorce isn't an option because of their religious practice. In that case, a legal separation provides similar protections to a divorce but with one catch: The couple is still married. But a lawyer will still help you go through the process of dividing property, figuring out child custody, and possibly even setting up something similar to alimony. It all gets put into writing and submitted to the court, similar to a divorce.

  • Be aware of potential downsides. If legal separation sounds like the perfect choice for you, keep in mind that it's not without its problems. The most obvious issue is that you can't remarry if you're legally separated, since Illinois sees you as still being married. But, a legal separation can be always be converted to a divorce, just in case you need to pursue that option in the future.

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