To legally separate or get a divorce? That is the question.
Legal separation occurs when a married couple live separately but are not yet formally divorced. During tough economic times, couples often opt to legally separate rather than pursue a full-blown divorce.
When contemplating a serious step like legal separation or divorce, a couple should consider a number of factors.
Above all, give yourself a financial reality check. Since legal separation doesn't require quite as many hurdles as the big "D," couples often assume that it will be cheaper than being divorced. But in the long-run, that's not always true.
For example, joint-filing tax benefits aren't guaranteed. Generally, the IRS considers you married for the entire tax year when you have no separation agreement by the final day of the year.
Texas takes it one step further. In the Lone Star State, you remain married from a tax perspective until your divorce is final, even though you're legally separated.
Health and Social Security benefits can also get complicated. Separated spouses may be able to retain health insurance under their partner's plan. In addition, they might be eligible for greater Social Security benefits if they don't officially get divorced for at least 10 years.
If you're interested in moving on -- into the arms of another person -- then divorce is the way to go. At the end of the day, a legal separation is not the same as divorce. People that are legally separated can't remarry other people until their divorce becomes final. If you get hitched while legally separated, you are committing bigamy.
If your reason for splitting is less a matter of the heart and more a matter of your bank account, legal separation might be a good route. One of the most important elements of a legal separation is that during this time, a couple does not accumulate community or marital property.
Many people use legal separation as a "divorce test-run" or as a complete proxy for divorce. Either way, legal separation is a serious matter. Consider hiring an experienced Houston divorce attorney to get a complete understanding of the process.