Some couples are unwilling to take the big step of filing for divorce, instead choosing to separate. The reasons for this can include one spouse refusing to grant the divorce, religious grounds, social or family pressure, or financial issues. According to one study, 80% of couples who separate later file for divorce within three years, 5% reconcile, and 15% remain separated ten years later.
Common financial reasons
A couple may want to separate but believe financial considerations prevent it. These can include:
- Income tax benefits: The IRS offers many benefits to married couples who file jointly, including more deductions and credits, larger IRA contributions and larger capital loss deductions.
- Health insurance: It is a significant expense and primary concern for many who do not want to change doctors if they switch plans.
- New living space: Some are unwilling to move from their current residence.
Inaction can lead to problems
Once couples go through the motions of dividing things up and moving apart, the urgency to divorce subsides. It may seem better to leave things under the new arrangement. However, there can be real setbacks and risks for those who do not divorce.
There are financial risks: The argument for remaining separated can easily be turned upside down. One spouse may engage in high-risk investing, reckless spending or have different financial goals. After years of saving, that shared nest egg could disappear, and there is very little the other spouse can do about it. Taking this issue one step further, a spouse could accrue a large debt, and spouses may be jointly liable for debt burdens whether they live together or not.
The future is uncertain: There is an inherent risk in investing or running a business. Alimony and child support are based on circumstances at the time of the divorce, but years into a separation may find a spouse less successful than they once were. Businesses can decline, or an act of God can impact them. It may be a matter where an issue (such as addiction) that caused the separation becomes increasingly harmful to the bottom line.
Remarriage: While a current spouse may be comfortable being separated, it can be a problem for those who start dating or want to commit to a new and loving relationship. The baggage of an old marriage limits the attempt to move on.
Death: In the unfortunate event that a spouse dies, the separated spouse may be long out of the picture and is entitled to a significant portion of the marital assets. Children who thought their parents were divorced may find themselves in dispute with a parent.
Clean breaks are often best
It is generally best for couples to make a clean break of things and then go their separate ways, perhaps only seeing each other at family events. Those with questions about the wisdom of a proposed separation can discuss the issue with an experienced, Board-Certified Texas family law expert attorney who can explain the short and long-term implications.