While it is far less common than a divorce, on occasion, parties determine that they do not wish to get a divorce, but wish to establish separate households. People often refer to this as a “legal separation.” Although unusual, there are a number of reasons clients come to our office seeking separate maintenance. It may be that they have a religious objection to divorce or want to stay legally married so that both parties can continue health care coverage under one of their employer supplied health benefits plans. Note, if you are seeking separate maintenance so that both parties can continue health care coverage, you must check with the employer to confirm that benefits will still be available. Many employers consider “legal separation” an event terminating dependency status and eligibility for continued spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage.
When a party brings a separate maintenance action, the process is very similar to that of a divorce. These cases often deal with the same issues that a typical divorce would, such a child support, spousal support, property division, etc. The statues and case law pertaining to separate maintenance are not nearly as defined as in divorce law. It is important that you discuss the pros and cons of separate maintenance verse divorce with an attorney, so that you understand the implications prior to filing. After a Judgment of Separate Maintenance is entered, either party can subsequently file for a divorce, to end legally, their marriage.