If you and your spouse are considering divorce, but are not quite ready to take the plunge, consider obtaining a legal separation. The idea of getting a divorce can be overwhelming and scary. A legal separation is a great place to start if you want to test out the waters of divorce before taking that formidable leap. You probably have many questions, so here are five things you should know about legal separation prior to getting one.

1. Legal separation and divorce differ.

The main difference between legal separation and divorce lies within the legalities of each process. In a divorce, you and your partner are no longer legally married. However, in a legal separation, you are still legally married while living apart. Another key difference between legal separation and divorce is that legal separation allows for the retention of healthcare and social security benefits. In a divorce, these benefits are terminated. Many people choose a legal separation over divorce initially for financial-related reasons such as these. A legal separation is similar to a divorce in that you will still have to negotiate child custody, visitation, division of assets, and spousal support.

2. There are benefits to getting a legal separation.

Legal separation allows the couple to separate for a period of time without doing anything permanent or irreversible to their marriage. This is a benefit to those who are unsure if they really want to go through the divorce process or not. Other couples choose this option because they oppose divorce for religious or moral reasons. This gives them a way out of marital ties without having to compromise personal beliefs. A legal separation also allows one spouse to continue receiving healthcare and social security benefits from the other spouse.

3. There is a process to qualify for legal separation.

To qualify for a legal separation, you must first meet certain residency requirements. In the state of Utah, one or both parties have to have lived in Utah for 90 days before filing a petition for separate maintenance with the local court. A legal separation is referred to as “separate maintenance” in Utah. You must also provide a legal reason for the request. Utah law requires the judge to wait at least 30 days before processing your request. From there, you may also be required to take a mediation session before negotiating the terms of your separation.

4. Legal separation may affect your tax status.

Tax consequences are one of the most complicated areas of legal separation. You can choose to either file “married filing jointly” or “married filing separated”. The decision of which option to choose can be unclear depending on a variety of factors. For example, if one spouse runs up a huge tax debt during the year, the other spouse will probably not want to file jointly. The best way to figure out what to do is to take your taxes to a CPA. A good CPA will let you know what your taxes will look like under a number of scenarios and help you find the best fit.

5. Separation does not always lead to divorce.

More often than not, a legal separation will ultimately lead to divorce. Of course, this is not always the case. If you and your spouse need some distance, but desire to work things out and eventually restore your marriage, this is definitely possible. Legal separation may be the step you and your spouse need to work through any issues causing a wedge in your marriage.

Legal separation and divorce are overwhelming processes and hard decisions to make. As you navigate the waters of divorce, you may want to try getting a legal separation first. By understanding the differences and similarities between legal separation and divorce, you will be better informed to make the appropriate decision for your circumstance. If you feel you need some council in the matter of a legal separation or divorce, please contact us at Ault Legal today.