It’s a sad fact of life that some married couples just can’t reconcile their differences. But does that mean they have to get a divorce? Currently, there are a couple of different options available to couples who are going through difficult times. One is to go through with a full-blown divorce, with all the legal ramifications. The other is to get what is known as a “legal separation” which falls short of getting a full divorce but means that couples can spend time apart to either work things out or move on with their lives.

In most cases, the decision to remain legally separated boils down to money. But is opting for legal separation a good idea?

Legal Separation

The idea of a legal separation is to protect partners from each other’s financial decisions. After a trial period has ended, it often becomes necessary to formalize who takes ownership of which assets and also who is responsible for ongoing concerns like child care and support.

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People who don’t begin legal separation proceedings can run into trouble if they remain financially connected to their spouse. Estranged husbands and wives can often find themselves liable for their partner’s debts and other issues, even if they are not living together.

Marilyn Chinitz is a partner at a law firm. She suggests that each partner drafts a separation agreement for the purpose of limiting liability for any debts incurred by the other. If one partner does incur debts then creditors are legally permitted to try to recover their debts from the other partner, regardless of whether that particular partner made the decision to borrow or not. In the formal separation documents, it should be made clear who will pay for which outstanding debts, including any college or medical bills.

Legal Separation Is Cheaper

There are numerous benefits to getting a legal separation before getting a divorce. One of those is the cost. Often it is better value, from a legal perspective, to get a simple separation, rather than go through the ordeal of a divorce, which may involve court proceedings. While hiring court reporters is a possibility, in most divorce cases, both you and your spouse have to be present, which could be emotionally difficult and financially costly if you end up taking a lot of time off work.

You Can Share Costs

Legal separation often results in the family home being divided up into “his” and “her” areas. Essentially, you’re still living under one roof, but you’ve got separate quarters. This is a purely financial arrangement which can result in substantial tax savings over the long run. It should be noted, however, that IRS rules in this area are complex. If you do have a cohabitation setup, it’s probably a good idea to go to your accountant to make sure you’re paying the right amount of tax and are protected from the government.

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It’s worth pointing out that the IRS still considers you to be part of the same household, even if you separate yourselves in your home. This means that any money paid to your spouse won’t be counted as alimony during this time.