In some situations, estranged married couples may decide to opt for a legal separation in lieu of a divorce. Although Texas is one of a handful of states that don’t officially recognize legal separation, it can be accomplished by using other laws.
A divorce in Texas has three parts: a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (also called a SAPCR), a community-property division case and a petition to terminate the marriage. For a legal separation, a couple must file an SAPCR and a community property-division case without the third element. The court issues temporary orders for these cases, and if a couple eventually wants to divorce, they must re-file them along with the petition to terminate the marriage.
Couples who are legally separated still qualify as being married, with a number of ramifications. The first is that they are able to keep filing joint federal (and state, in states with an income tax) tax returns.
Secondly, remaining married can allow one spouse to stay on the other’s health insurance obtained through employment, as many such policies continue coverage for separated spouses, but terminate coverage in the event of divorce. It may be necessary to read the details of the health insurance policy to determine whether this is true in a particular case.
A spouse who has been married for a minimum time period of 10 years is often able to qualify for enhanced Social Security benefits, which, in some instances has motivated a couple to become legally separated for a period of time before obtaining a divorce.
For some couples with strong religious beliefs, a legal separation may be preferred over a divorce, particularly if the religion absolutely forbids it. In some instances, a married couple may decide that they are not done loving each other, but simply prefer not to live in the same household for various reasons, and therefore a legal separation is the appropriate choice.
In any event, it is essential to consult with a family law attorney to know how either a separation or divorce will affect such issues as division of property, child support and custody, visitation, and maintenance.
Source: Reuters, “3 Reasons to Get a Separation Instead of a Divorce,” Andrew Chow, March 1, 2012