Married but Separated: A Complete Guide

Separation can feel complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. With the proper guidance, it can be straightforward and peaceful.

You may be wondering about your options when it comes to separation. And you might have other questions, too. What are the legal implications? What option is best for my unique circumstances?

This article explains what it means to be married but separated. It also covers the three types of separation so you can decide which one is right for you.

What does “married but separated” mean?

A married but separated circumstance occurs when spouses are married but no longer live together.

Some spouses choose to live separately as the first step in deciding whether to divorce or reconcile.

Spouses choose to separate for several reasons, such as:

  • long-term marital problems;
  • lack of communication;
  • the need for more individual space; and/or
  • no longer feeling the same kind of love for one another.

Living apart can require emotional and physical adjustments for the whole family.

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Why choose marital separation?

If you and your spouse want to live apart but don’t want to divorce, separation is an option.

There are benefits to separating while remaining married.

  • Marital separation has financial benefits, such as saving on the cost of divorce; and shared pensions.
  • The separation period gives you time to reflect on your wants and needs. Without the finality of divorce, you have a unique opportunity for personal growth and, if you wish, counseling.
  • Some religions prohibit divorce. Separation allows you to live apart while still adhering to your beliefs.
  • Legal separation allows you to establish a formal child custody arrangement without divorce. This gives your kids continued stability during the separation process.
  • Separation lets you keep certain benefits, such as social security. But, you must have been married for at least 10 years to receive your spouse’s social security benefits after divorce.
  • Separation keeps the door open to potential reconciliation.
  • In most cases, separation lets you maintain access to your spouse’s health insurance, even if you live apart. However, it is always important to check with your insurance providers to verify your coverage during changing circumstances.

What are the legal implications of marital separation?

Legal implications vary depending on your unique situation and jurisdiction. Here’s what to consider:

  • Financial arrangements: Legal separation may involve financial decisions about:
    • spousal support or alimony;
    • division of assets; or
    • child custody and support.

Spouses can allow the court to issue orders for these matters or choose to reach their own unique agreements in mediation.

  • Tax implications: You and your spouse may have different tax benefits and obligations. So, it’s essential to understand how your separation will affect your taxes in terms of:
    • filing statuses;
    • credits; and
    • deductions.
  • Healthcare and insurance: You may still have access to health insurance while separated. However, benefits can change. You and your spouse will need to discuss options with your healthcare and insurance providers.
  • Property rights: Permanent legal separation often involves dividing marital property. You can divide things in a mutually agreed-upon way through mediation. You may choose to get valuations for your:
    • real estate;
    • bank accounts;
    • vehicles; or
    • other assets.
  • Debts: If the separation is permanent, you’ll need to divide your marital debt, meaning debts and liabilities acquired during the marriage. Examples include credit card debt, mortgages, and loans.
  • Child custody and visitation: During separation, parents must make arrangements for child custody. This includes visitation rights, custody time-sharing, and child support. A mediator can assist you in coming to an agreement on these matters.

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What are the different types of separation?

There are three different types of separation: trial separation, legal separation, and permanent separation. Let’s take a close look at each one.

1. Trial separation

trial separation occurs when you want to take some time apart temporarily. It gives you and your spouse a chance to decide how you both want to move forward. During the trial period, many people find it easier to honestly assess your feelings.

Your legal rights and responsibilities towards each other don’t change during a trial separation. For example, any property either of you buy during this time would still be considered marital property.

A trial separation is more informal than a legal or permanent separation. It doesn’t require court orders or involve legal proceedings.

Trial separation usually involves the following:

  • establishing ground rules about communication;
  • living apart (in nearby locations) and seeing each other at prearranged times; and
  • seeking counseling if you want help navigating through this time.

Depending on your circumstances, a trial separation can last however long you and your spouse decide. It ends once you both decide on your next course of action.

While a trial separation is informal, working out an agreement in mediation is best. This agreement may address:

  • how to split or share bank accounts;
  • how to handle your expenses and incomes;
  • housing for both of you during the separation period; and
  • child care and parenting time.

2. Legal separation

legal separation means spouses have a court order. Most states offer legal separation. Only a few, such as Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania do not.

Legal separation is a popular alternative to divorce. Many spouses opt for legal separation when they’re unsure of the state of their marriage but want to set financial boundaries around:

  • marital assets and debts;
  • custody of minor children;
  • alimony; or
  • child support.

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Unlike a trial separation, a legal separation involves formal steps. Mediation is a path many spouses choose to take in this circumstance. The process is as follows:

  1. Schedule a free consultation: Find a professional mediator and meet with them to learn more about their services. This is an opportunity to ask any questions you may have about the legal separation process.
  2. Start mediation: Schedule meetings with your mediator at times that work for you and your spouse. Your mediator will explain which documents you will need to access for these meetings.
  3. Draft an agreement: Once you and your spouse agree, your mediator will help you draft a contract. Both of you will then review and sign it.
  4. Submit to the court: The agreement is submitted to the court for approval. Once approved, the judge signs it and it becomes binding, and you and your spouse will be legally separated.

The Aurit Center offers legal separation mediation servicesSchedule a free consultation with an expert mediator to learn more.

3. Permanent separation

Permanent separation happens when at least one spouse decides that reconciliation is not possible. However, this doesn’t necessarily lead to a divorce.

No matter your circumstance, permanent separation may affect your marital assets. Some states see assets and debts obtained after permanent separation as separate property. In this case, these won’t be part of the property division if you later decide to divorce.

If you don’t plan to divorce soon, it’s crucial to have a written agreement about the separation terms. It should include the following factors:

  • child custody and support;
  • division of property;
  • communication arrangements;
  • spousal support; and/or
  • parenting time.

In some states, you may need to wait a certain period of time before you can file for divorce. If you do decide to divorce, The Aurit Center offers divorce mediation services. Our mediators will help you have an amicable divorce. Schedule a free consultation with an expert divorce mediator.

How to file taxes when you’re married but separated

The process of filing taxes when you’re married but separated can vary depending on your unique circumstances and location. Always check with a tax professional to determine your options.

Generally, if you’re still legally married, you can file your taxes as one of two statuses:

  • married filing jointly; or
  • married filing separately.

But if you’re separated and don’t wish to reconcile, you may want to file separately. If you file separately, you and your spouse will each report your own income and expenses on your tax return. Filing jointly, on the other hand, will combine your income and may affect your tax liability.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when filing your taxes as married but separated spouses:

  • You and your spouse must decide who’ll claim your kids as dependents.
  • If you pay or receive child or spousal support, this may impact your taxes. Alimony is not taxable for the receiver and tax-deductible for the giver.
  • If you have a legal separation or divorce decree, you must follow the tax-related terms.

Consult a tax professional if you’re unsure about your specific situation. These experts provide personalized help.

Best practices for marital separation

Marital separation can be challenging for you, your spouse, and your family. Here are some best practices to make the transition smoother:

  • Set boundaries: Establish clear expectations for living arrangements, communication, and financial responsibilities. This can help you maintain stability and clarity during the transition.
  • Focus on self-care: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being. Exercise, enjoy your hobbies, and spend time with your family. You can also join support groups and connect with others who may be going through similar experiences.
  • Get information from experts: Knowing what the law says about separation can help a great deal. Aurit Center Certified Mediators can answer your questions.
  • Do financial planning: Financial strain can add unnecessary stress to your separation. Analyze your finances and set a budget to manage your finances independently.
  • Focus on your kids: Keep your kids top-of-mind during the separation process. It’s important that you and your spouse build a positive co-parenting relationship and agree on a fair parenting plan.
  • Stay flexible: Things can change during the separation process. Maintain a flexible schedule to adapt to new arrangements and challenges as they arise.

Separation resources from Aurit Mediation

You can make the separation process a lot easier by using The Aurit Center’s Legal Separation services. Our mediators will help you find mutually acceptable solutions and reach agreements on all factors in your separation. Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert mediators today.

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