Some couples find themselves caught in a long-term separation rather than a divorce. The reasons may involve money, religious grounds, family pressures or a spouse’s refusal to divorce. Some separate, clinging to the hope that they will reconcile; however, one study found that 5% of couples who separate without divorce reconcile, 80% divorce within three years and 15% remain separated after ten or more years.
Reasons to remain separated
A couple may be open to separation but not to divorce. Reasons for this include:
- Money: The IRS offers additional benefits to a married couple who jointly files, and the couple can make larger IRA contributions and take large capital loss deductions.
- Health insurance: Health insurance is expensive, and many do not want to switch plans or change doctors.
- Living space: Some are deeply attached to their current residence or believe they will not find another home of similar quality if they move.
The downsides of separation
It is often best to make a clean break of things, particularly in a relationship. Once couples divide up their possessions and move apart, the urgency to divorce subsides. There can be risks to this inaction.
Money: There may be plenty of money at the time of the couple separates, but the primary breadwinner may engage in high-risk investing, go on a reckless spending spree, or downshift into a lower-paying job. Since they are still married, it can be hard to protect half of the marital estate, particularly if the other spouse goes into debt.
Uncertainty: No one can accurately predict the future. Even if a spouse doesn’t engage in reckless behavior, they still may lose a high-paying job, their business may go bankrupt, or they may suffer some other mishap. Their emergent problems are the separated spouse’s issues too.
Remarriage: Some will date if separated, but it becomes a problem if the relationship progresses and could be a turnoff for many others from the get-go.
Death: One separated spouse may exit the family picture, perhaps staying away for years. If the primary parent unexpectedly dies, the estranged spouse could be entitled large portion of the estate, leaving the children to fight with their parent over money and assets.
Carefully think it over
The circumstances of each marriage or separation are different. Spouses should weigh the benefits very carefully. They can also gain additional insight by consulting with an attorney who handles these matters and can knowledgeably explain the long- and short-term consequences of the client’s decisions.