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Should We Separate, Should We Divorce, or Should We Buy a Turtle?

Married couples who are weighing the pros and cons of divorce should first be fully educated as to the alternatives, namely, legal separation, annulment, or the timely but totally “accidental” death of their beloved spouse.

R.I. being puritanical does not allow for annulment or murder, so let’s compare / contrast divorce and legal separation.

First of all, parties who legally separate remain married. If you had hopes of, say, meeting Jennifer Love Hewitt* and getting her to propose marriage to you (no pre-nup!) you are out of luck. You can’t marry if you are legally separated. Sorry, Jen.

Also there is that whole thing about closure. IF you are one of those who needs external signifiers to close one chapter and move on to the next, separation certainly ain’t it. You are still married to one another. Still your spouse. Still your monkey, still your circus. The circus is just going on in another tent now. Then again, for many spouses, the wound of a divorce will not heal even at divorce. Sometimes you have to wait until your ex-spouse remarries and then divorces again. Then you know it wasn’t your fault.

Another con is every time you go on a date you have to do that little dance of explaining. Yes, I am here on this date. Yes, we met on Tinder. Yes, I am married. No, this is not immoral. Yes, I still want you to pay for dinner. Nothing is hotter than spending the first fifteen minutes of a date making a first impression by explaining the legalese behind separation. “Sure, I mean, I still wear the ring – but I got the mutual fund!”.

Separation is, essentially, a process by which two married people agree to live separate and apart from one another and enjoy all the benefits of that situation but still need a Court Order setting forth silly things like child custody, parenting time, child support, division of assets, assignment of debt, how to handle taxes, alimony, etc. Then, later, if the parties do not reconcile, one of them must return to Court once again, file again, and serve the other one again. Then get divorced. So you have to do have enough grit to experience twice what even Trappist monks barely survive one time. That’s something to consider.

Why would anyone want to go about it this way? Why not just divorce the first time you are there in Court together? Why can’t these miserable married couples just stay in their miserable marriages and not have to split up all their assets? Well, separation does have its benefits.

For one, if either party is seriously ill and in need of intensive medical care in the near future, he or she may not survive being separated from their health insurance (many divorcing parties find the insurance they have counted on during the marriage will not necessarily be there for them when the divorce is final). Many married couples will agree to separate instead of divorcing despite knowing damn well they are never reconciling simply out of sympathy for a medical issue one of them is suffering through. You are very sick, dear, and while that is not enough to get me to stick around I do want to limit your co-pays. Romance is alive and well.

Also, some people simply find distaste in the stigma of divorce. Maybe they do not want to admit defeat, or perhaps they only see divorce as an absolute worst / last resort to be used only when all other options have been exhausted.

Sometimes a couple that has been married for a long time wants to know for certain that both will be able to survive financially after the divorce. Legally separating households, bills, assets, and debts and then leaving each to his or her own home economics acts like a kind of simulation of sorts.

Another benefit is that in Rhode Island, where I practice, either you or your spouse have to live here for a full year before you can file for divorce. But you only have to live here one day before filing for separation! So, if you lack the residency requirements for R.I. to assume jurisdiction over your divorce you don’t have to wait out the year; you can file the separation, get everything sorted, and then file for divorce at the appropriate time.

Every jurisdiction is different, so you should speak with an attorney where you live before making any decisions.

*for millennial readers, JLH was an actress in the 90s.

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