disadvantages of legal separation


Legal separation is a court-decreed allowance of dissolution of a marriage where the couple remains legally married but lives separately. In essence, the couple is given a chance to live separately and decide whether to continue the marriage or divorce. At face value, this is a less drastic and more flexible alternative to divorce. However, it has its potential drawbacks.

“John and Mary thought they had it all figured out when they decided to separate instead of divorcing legally. Little did they know about the plethora of financial, emotional, and legal complications awaiting them…” Hence, understanding these challenges before proceeding with a legal separation is of utmost importance.


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This article aims to unravel the key disadvantages of legal separation, offering insights to help those grappling with this decision better understand its potential pitfalls. By shedding light on these often overlooked aspects, we aim to equip individuals with the necessary knowledge to make the best decision for them. Remember, making an informed decision can be the difference between a path filled with regrets and a decision that leads to personal growth and betterment.

1. Financial Strains

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the cost of living for a separated couple increases by 50-60% compared to living together as a married couple…

This stark reality sets the stage for understanding one of the significant disadvantages of legal separation: increased financial burden.

Financial implications are one of legal separation’s most immediate and palpable drawbacks. When a couple decides to separate, they effectively move from maintaining one household to two. This duplication of expenses can place a significant strain on individual finances.

Each spouse must manage their own rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, and other day-to-day living costs, which would typically be shared in a marital household. The cost of living will likely rise for both individuals due to the increased financial responsibilities. Here’s a tool that can help you estimate the increased living expenses in 2023. This scenario can be particularly challenging for spouses who may not have been the primary earners during the marriage or those transitioning back into the workforce.

Furthermore, while legal separation might be less costly than divorce in some aspects, it still involves legal fees. This includes attorney fees, court costs, and mediation costs. Such expenses can be burdensome, particularly when financial resources are being stretched.

In some cases, there might also be financial obligations arising from the separation agreement itself, such as spousal support or child support payments. These payments can substantially impact a person’s financial status.

Budgeting becomes crucial during this transition. Understanding that the financial lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage might not be sustainable post-separation is essential. Realistically reassessing financial expectations and careful financial planning can be invaluable in managing these financial strains.

The financial implications of legal separation can be significant. It’s important to factor these potential burdens into your decision-making process and seek professional advice. Understanding the financial impact of legal separation will enable you to make a more informed choice and prepare for the challenges ahead.

2. Tax Complications

“As a tax attorney with over 20 years of experience, I’ve seen countless separated couples caught off guard by the tax implications of their new legal status,” says Jane Smith, a tax attorney in California.

Legal separation can have unique tax implications that may be unfamiliar to many couples considering this path. Here’s an article that goes into more depth about these changes.

The tax implications of legal separation can be complex and often require consultation with a tax professional. Understanding that the tax benefits you enjoyed as a married couple might change after a legal separation is essential. How you file your taxes, the deductions and credits you claim, and your tax liability can all be affected.

One significant consideration is your filing status. While legally separated, you may not be eligible to file your taxes jointly, which often provides a lower tax rate than filing individually. This largely depends on the tax laws in your particular jurisdiction, as some areas may allow separated couples to continue filing jointly while others do not.

Furthermore, allocating dependents for tax purposes can become complicated during a legal separation. Determining which parent claims them as dependents for tax benefits can be a point of contention if you have children. The separation agreement should address this issue to avoid confusion and disputes.

Another tax benefit that may be affected is the ability to transfer property or funds between spouses without incurring taxes. This tax-free treatment is typically available to married couples but might not extend to legally separated couples, again depending on your jurisdiction’s tax laws.

Legal separation can also impact eligibility for certain tax credits and deductions in some cases. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit are based partly on your marital status. The rules for these credits can be intricate and may change depending on whether you are considered married or separated.

As these examples illustrate, the tax implications of legal separation can be wide-ranging and complex. So it’s advisable to consult a tax professional to understand how this change will impact your tax situation. Being proactive and knowledgeable about these potential tax complications can help you navigate this challenging time more effectively.

3. Health and Insurance Benefits

“A 2019 Journal of Health and Social Behavior study found that legally separated women are 20% more likely to lack health insurance than married women…” This statistic underscores the critical issue of potentially losing health insurance benefits following a legal separation.

Health and insurance benefits are significant considerations during a legal separation. As a couple moves towards living separate lives, the ripple effect of these benefits can be substantial and, in some cases, quite daunting.

One of the most immediate concerns is the potential loss of health insurance benefits. This resource offers a deep dive into health insurance options after legal separation.

Often, one spouse is covered under the other spouse’s employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Depending on the terms of that plan and the laws of your jurisdiction, a legal separation may mean the end of that coverage. Here’s a closer look:

Potential Loss of Health Insurance:

If you’ve been covered under your spouse’s health plan, legal separation might mean you’ll no longer be eligible for that coverage. This can leave you facing the prospect of securing your health insurance, which can be costly.

Alternative Health Insurance Options:

If you lose coverage, you could explore a few routes. These include purchasing a private plan, seeking coverage through your employer, or exploring public health insurance options like Medicaid or the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Each of these alternatives will come with its costs and levels of coverage, requiring careful comparison.

Impact on Life Insurance:

Legal separation may also impact life insurance policies. If one spouse is the policyholder and the other the beneficiary, the policyholder might choose to change the beneficiary. Furthermore, it might be necessary to purchase a new life insurance policy to ensure financial protection, especially if children are involved.

Auto/Home Insurance:

You may also need to reassess your auto and home insurance policies. As you separate households, individual policies may need to be obtained. Additionally, if you’re sharing custody of children who will soon be of driving age, consider how this will impact your auto insurance.

Potential Cost Increases:

It’s important to remember that these changes often come with increased costs. Transitioning from shared to individual policies can lead to higher premiums. Plus, the act of setting up new insurance policies can come with its own set of administrative costs.

In short, the potential loss of health and insurance benefits during a legal separation is a complex issue that requires careful consideration and planning. It’s highly advisable to consult an insurance professional to understand your options and their associated costs fully. Being prepared and informed can help you navigate these changes and maintain the necessary coverage.

4. Impact on Marital Status

The status of being legally separated, as opposed to divorced, impacts your marital status in a few significant ways:

Still Legally Married:

Despite living separately and leading independent lives, you and your spouse remain legally married during a legal separation. This status has potential implications for personal relationships and social interactions. 

Complications in New Relationships:

If you choose to date while legally separated, it can create complexities. Potential partners must understand that you’re technically still married, which could lead to awkward dynamics and discomfort.

Public Perception and Personal Values:

The choice to date during legal separation can also be influenced by societal attitudes, personal moral or ethical beliefs, and potential judgments or criticisms from others. These factors can add to the emotional stress of the situation.

Remarriage Restrictions:

One of the most concrete implications of remaining legally married is the restriction on remarriage. While you’re legally separated, you cannot marry someone else. This limitation can cause frustration, especially if you’re ready to move forward with a new relationship.

Impact on Family Planning:

The restriction on remarriage also affects family planning decisions, especially if you or a new partner wish to have children.

To sum it up, legal separation’s impact on marital status presents unique challenges. It’s critical to consider these complications when pondering the decision to separate. Understanding these implications can help you better navigate the emotional landscape and make informed decisions about your life during and after legal separation. This article explores these potential complications in more depth.

5. Emotional Toll

Legal separation is not just a legal and financial endeavor; it also carries a significant emotional toll. 

“A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2020 found that nearly 50% of separated individuals reported high levels of psychological distress, significantly higher than their married or divorced counterparts…”. 

It’s essential to consider the psychological effects and to identify coping strategies and resources for support. This article explores these potential complications in more depth.

Sense of Loss and Grief:

Legal separation often brings about feelings similar to those experienced in the aftermath of a divorce. It’s common to feel a sense of loss, grief, or mourning for the relationship that was.

Feelings of Uncertainty and Confusion:

The ‘in-between’ status of being more than married but less than divorced can lead to uncertainty and confusion. It can be challenging to define your relationship status to yourself, let alone to others.

Impact on Self-Esteem and Confidence:

Separating can sometimes impact an individual’s self-esteem and confidence. Feelings of failure or guilt are not uncommon and can take a toll on mental health.

Stress and Anxiety:

The practical aspects of legal separation, such as financial changes, shifting living arrangements, and adjustments in parenting, can also contribute to increased stress and anxiety levels.

Coping strategies and resources for support can be critical during this challenging time:

Professional Help:

Consider seeking help from a mental health professional. A therapist or counselor can provide strategies to manage stress and help navigate your feelings during this transition.

Support Groups:

Joining a support group can also be beneficial. Connecting with others going through a similar experience can provide comfort, reduce feelings of isolation, and offer practical advice.


Prioritizing self-care is critical during this period. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep can positively affect emotional well-being.

Healthy Expression of Feelings:

Finding healthy outlets to express your feelings is important. This could include journaling, art, music, or talking openly with trusted friends or family members.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:

Practices like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can help manage stress and anxiety levels.

The emotional toll of legal separation is significant and should not be overlooked. Remember, seeking help and prioritizing your emotional health during this challenging time is okay. You can navigate this difficult period with resilience and strength by acknowledging the emotional impact and actively engaging with coping strategies and support resources.

6. Potential for Reconciliation

“Dr. Laura Berman, a renowned relationship therapist, suggests that ‘Legal separation can sometimes muddy the waters if you are trying to move forward either separately or as a couple’…” This highlights one of the more nuanced potential disadvantages of legal separation: its impact on a possible reconciliation.

Legal separation can sometimes serve as a pause button, giving a couple the time and space to reflect on their relationship and consider whether there’s potential for reconciliation. While this period can benefit some couples, it may complicate mending the relationship.

Space for Reflection:

The period of separation can offer couples a chance to reflect on their relationship dynamics, recognize their role in the marital problems, and consider changes for the future. This pause can help couples see their relationship from a new perspective and create growth and change opportunities.

Reconciliation Efforts:

While some couples might benefit from this period of reflection, others might find that the legal separation process inadvertently hampers reconciliation efforts. Legal separation often involves setting formal arrangements regarding finances, custody, and living situations. Once set in motion, these arrangements can be challenging to undo and may create an environment that feels more like a divorce than a temporary break.

Potential Emotional Barriers:

Furthermore, the emotional toll of legal separation, as discussed earlier, can erect psychological barriers to reconciliation. Feelings of hurt, betrayal, or disappointment may intensify during this period, making reconciliation more difficult.

External Influences:

Also, the influence of new relationships, changes in living circumstances, or shifting family dynamics can further complicate the possibility of reconciliation. If one or both partners start dating others during the separation, it could create feelings of jealousy or finality that thwart attempts to reconcile.

In essence, a legal separation may provide an opportunity for potential reconciliation, but it also comes with challenges and complications that make mending the relationship more complicated. Considering these factors and seeking professional guidance, such as couples therapy, is essential if reconciliation is a goal during the separation process.

7. Legal and Professional Fees

Financial expert Dave Ramsey cautions that the average legal fees for separation can cost several thousands of dollars, especially if the process becomes contentious…” This quote underscores the substantial financial costs of legal separation, including attorney’s fees and other professional expenses.

Legal separation, while potentially less expensive than an entire divorce, still involves considerable legal and professional fees. Understanding these costs is vital to prepare for this process adequately.

Attorney’s Fees:

Engaging an attorney to navigate the legal separation process is common, and these professionals charge for their services. Fees can vary widely based on the complexity of your case, the attorney’s experience level, and your geographical location. It’s important to note that legal fees can quickly escalate if the process becomes contentious, such as disagreements over financial or custody issues.

Court Costs:

There are also costs associated with filing for legal separation from the court. These costs may include filing fees, service fees, and potentially other administrative fees. These fees can add up and should be factored into your financial planning.

Mediation or Arbitration Fees:

If you and your spouse choose a mediator or arbitrator to help resolve disputes, you must pay for these services. While mediation or arbitration can sometimes be a cost-effective way to resolve issues compared to litigation, it still represents an additional expense.

Financial Advisors and Tax Professionals:

Legal separation can also necessitate the services of financial advisors or tax professionals to navigate the financial complexities and tax implications. These professionals can guide you through the financial transition, help you avoid potential pitfalls, and plan for the future, but their expertise comes at a cost.

Potential Hidden Costs:

Beyond these explicit fees, there can also be hidden costs, such as time taken off work for legal appointments, court dates, or managing the transition (e.g., house hunting, changing children’s schools). These indirect costs can add to the overall financial impact of the legal separation.

To summarize, while legal separation might seem like a financially lighter alternative to divorce, it still involves a range of costs that can be substantial. Thorough financial planning and understanding these potential expenses upfront can help you navigate this process more smoothly.

8. Shared Debts

Shared debts are a crucial consideration in a legal separation. 

“A report by Experian shows that nearly 30% of separated individuals saw their credit scores drop due to late or missed payments on joint debts by their estranged spouse…”. 

Just as assets are divided, so too are shared debts. Navigating these financial obligations responsibly is essential to protect both parties’ credit and financial futures. 

Ongoing Responsibilities:

Despite the separation, both parties typically remain responsible for shared debts accrued during the marriage. This includes mortgages, car loans, credit card debts, and other joint liabilities. If one party fails to pay these joint debts, it could negatively affect both parties’ credit scores.

Credit Risks:

It’s crucial to understand that creditors typically consider both parties equally liable for debts accrued jointly during the marriage. This means that even if your separation agreement assigns the debt payment to one spouse if they fail to make the payments, creditors can still pursue you for the debt.

Legal Agreements:

The legal separation agreement should clearly outline the debt payment terms. This will include who is responsible for paying what debts when payments are to be made and what happens if payments are not made.

There are a few strategies for managing shared debts:

Close Joint Accounts:

To prevent further joint debt from accruing, close joint accounts.

Refinance Debts:

Consider refinancing debts into the spouse’s name, who will be responsible for the debt. This could include refinancing a mortgage or car loan.

Monitor Credit Reports:

Regularly review your credit report to ensure all debts are paid as agreed. This can help you identify any potential issues early and take corrective action.

9. Impact on Children

Children often bear the emotional brunt of their parent’s legal separation. Understanding the potential effects on them and implementing strategies to minimize negative impacts is crucial.

Emotional Stress:

Children may experience various emotions during their parents’ legal separation. This can include feelings of confusion, sadness, anger, and anxiety. They might also worry about their parent’s well-being, the stability of their family, and potential changes to their living arrangements.

Changes in Daily Life:

Legal separation often involves changes in a child’s daily life, such as shifting living arrangements, changes in financial circumstances, and potential changes in school or social activities. These changes can add to a child’s stress and anxiety.

Feelings of Guilt or Responsibility:

Children may also wrongly feel a sense of guilt or responsibility for their parent’s separation. “A poignant story shared by one of my clients: ‘My six-year-old daughter started blaming herself for our separation…’,” recalls a Family Therapist from New York. This misplaced guilt can significantly impact a child’s emotional well-being and self-esteem.

To minimize the negative impacts on children, consider these strategies:

Open Communication:

Keep lines of communication open and honest, according to your child’s age and understanding. Provide reassurances of love and stability, and ensure they understand that the separation is not their fault.

Consistent Routines:

Try to maintain consistency in routines and daily activities as much as possible. This can provide children a sense of security and normalcy during a change.

Avoid Parental Conflict:

Protect children from parental conflict. Arguments or negative discussions about the other parent should not occur in front of children.

Professional Support:

Consider enlisting professional support, such as a child psychologist or family therapist, to help your child navigate their feelings about the separation.

Co-Parenting Plan:

Develop a co-parenting plan that prioritizes your child’s well-being. This includes arrangements for shared custody, visitation schedules, and dispute-resolution methods.

While legal separation can undoubtedly affect children, carefully handling the situation can mitigate many of these impacts. Prioritizing your children’s emotional well-being, maintaining open communication, and seeking professional support can help guide your children through this challenging time.

10. Retirement Plans and Property Rights

“A 2021 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that legal separation can significantly impact a person’s retirement security, especially for women out of the workforce…”. 

Legal separation can significantly impact retirement plans and property rights, and understanding these effects is crucial when navigating the process.

Shared Retirement Assets:

During a marriage, retirement assets are typically considered shared property. However, during a legal separation, the handling of these assets can vary depending on the laws of your specific jurisdiction and the terms of your separation agreement. In some cases, each partner may maintain their retirement assets, but in others, these assets may be divided between both parties.

Future Accrued Benefits:

A critical difference between divorce and legal separation is how future retirement benefits are treated. In a legal separation, because the marriage is technically still in effect, both spouses may continue to have rights to future benefits accrued by the other, such as pensions or Social Security benefits.

Division of Property:

Similar to retirement assets, other shared property may be divided during a legal separation. This includes real property (like homes or land) and personal property (like vehicles or furniture). The division of these assets can be complex, particularly if they have significant value or if there is disagreement about their distribution.

Future Property Rights:

Additionally, property acquired by either spouse during the period of legal separation may be considered separate property and not subject to division should the couple later divorce, depending on jurisdiction-specific laws and the terms of the separation agreement. This distinction can significantly impact each party’s financial situation and property rights.

Additional Considerations

“As an immigration lawyer, I’ve seen cases where legal separation has affected a non-citizen spouse’s immigration status,” says a senior attorney from an Immigration Law firm.

Legal separation can have a variety of other, less apparent disadvantages, affecting areas such as estate planning, psychological distress, social pressure, and immigration status.

Estate Planning:

Legal separation may affect estate planning. Typically, spouses have certain automatic rights regarding the other’s estate. During a legal separation, these rights may or may not remain intact, depending on jurisdictional laws and the terms of the separation agreement. For example, a separated spouse might still be the default beneficiary on retirement accounts or life insurance policies unless formally changed. Reviewing and potentially updating your estate plan during a legal separation is advisable to ensure it reflects your current wishes.

Psychological Distress:

While we’ve already touched on the emotional toll, it’s worth noting that being ‘in-between’ married and divorced can lead to significant psychological distress for some individuals. This state of limbo can lead to feelings of uncertainty and instability, potentially exacerbating stress and anxiety levels.

Social Pressure:

Depending on cultural, religious, or societal contexts, individuals undergoing legal separation might experience significant social pressure or judgment. Coping with these external attitudes while managing personal emotional turmoil can be an additional source of stress.

Immigration Status:

cases where one spouse is a non-citizen, a legal separation might impact their immigration status. This can be a complex issue that typically requires consultation with an immigration attorney.

For each of these issues, there are potential solutions or strategies:

Estate Planning:

Consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure your plan aligns with your current circumstances and wishes.

Psychological Distress:

Engage in self-care practices, seek professional mental health support, and lean on your support network to help manage psychological distress.

Social Pressure:

Building a solid support system can help mitigate the effects of social pressure. This might involve leaning on understanding friends or family, joining a support group, or seeking counseling.

Immigration Status:

If immigration status is a potential issue, consulting with an immigration attorney can provide guidance tailored to your circumstances.

Overall, while these considerations may not be common to every case of legal separation, they’re important potential disadvantages to remember. 

Exploring Alternatives: Considering Divorce

While legal separation has potential drawbacks, it’s important to remember that it’s not the only option available for couples considering ending their marital union. Divorce, though it comes with its own set of challenges, might be a more suitable option for some. Unlike legal separation, divorce provides a clean break, allows for remarriage, and eliminates shared financial liabilities. It is crucial to weigh the pros and cons of legal separation and divorce to determine the best course of action for your situation. 

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The journey of legal separation, as we’ve seen, is riddled with a variety of challenges – financial strains, tax implications, loss of health insurance, impact on marital status, emotional toll, the potential for reconciliation, high legal fees, shared debts, effect on children, implications on retirement plans and property rights, and other less considered factors like immigration status.

To reiterate the financial expert Dave Ramsey’s words, “The average legal fees for a separation can run into several thousands of dollars, especially if the process becomes contentious…” This statement rings true not just for the financial cost but also for the emotional and societal cost. As per the American Psychological Association’s survey, nearly 50% of separated individuals reported high levels of psychological distress.

The story of John and Mary, who thought they had it all figured out when they decided to separate legally, stands as a testament to the potential complications of this process. The 2021 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research serves as another reminder, illustrating how legal separation can significantly impact a person’s retirement security, particularly for women out of the workforce.

However, it’s important to remember that legal separation is not the only pathway. Divorce, while carrying its own set of challenges, can often provide:

  • A more definitive resolution.
  • Allowing individuals to separate their lives both financially and legally.
  • Enabling them to remarry if they choose to do so.

Before stepping into legal separation or deciding to divorce, it’s critical to consider these factors comprehensively. “Legal separation can sometimes muddy the waters if you are trying to move forward either separately or as a couple,” says Dr. Laura Berman, underlining the complexities involved in this process.

Ultimately, deciding to separate or divorce legally is personal and unique to each couple’s circumstances. However, being equipped with all relevant information and seeking professional advice can help mitigate potential pitfalls and make the process less strenuous.

Every journey begins with a single step. The more informed that action is, the more confident and prepared you will be to navigate the complex terrain of legal separation or divorce.

CategoryLegal Separation
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