Due mostly to financial realities, many couples are choosing to separate, but never get divorced. As this article from MSNBC and the New York Times shows, “permanent separations” are becoming more popular.
I see a number of clients that have been living in a permanently separated state. Usually, these clients come to see me when they meet someone new and want a divorce. Or, they see me when a financial event spurs them to actually get divorced.
Permanent separation may work for some couples. But, it is important to know that there are significant legal repercussions to being married. Some of those are discussed in the linked article. These repercussions will be different in each state. But, in general, being married at death can entitle a spouse to a share of an estate and other rights that they would not enjoy if they had been divorced. As an example, money that goes to a spouse at death can lower the amount that children from previous marriages receive from an estate. Extended separations can also affect important property rights and support rights. Many people in a permanent separation have not learned about or considered these implications. They are simply waiting to be surprised.
One option that people in permanent separations may want to consider is a post-marital agreement that sets forth the rights of the parties during the separation.
If both spouses acknowledge and accept the risks and benefits, then a permanent separation may be a good option. However, anyone living in or considering a permanent separation should consult an attorney to learn about those risks and benefits so that they can make an informed decision.