Should we get divorced or just separate? - How a long separation could affect your future divorce agreement

Making the decision to get divorced can be difficult. Many married couples separate for long periods of time before divorcing or do so indefinitely; especially where they feel comfortable or feel that entering into divorce proceedings will be financially complex. Many couples live apart quite happily, with neither party in a hurry to begin divorce proceedings. Such separations can go on for years with no end to the marriage in sight. If you are involved in a long-term separation, there are some issues you should be aware of. Today at Unlock the Law, we look at the legal and financial implications of long-term separation before divorce.


Separation in the UK

Separation is often a practical alternative to initiating divorce proceedings right away. It is possible to separate quickly without court proceedings, and you can use a separation agreement at a later date as a basis for divorce arrangements.

In certain situations, separation may also be a more convenient and beneficial long-term option for couples. For example, choosing to stay married may preserve your spouse’s right to your occupational pension should you pass away.

Separation Procedure

It is possible to separate both formally and informally. Formal separation involves drawing up a legal separation agreement outlining financial and child arrangements. Although agreement isn't required for informal separation, it is prudent to discuss and agree on such matters.

Other issues that you may wish to deal with if you choose to separate are any joint bank accounts you may hold and you may also wish to register your right to live in the family home. Furthermore, you should update your will to reflect your new circumstances and wishes.

There is no requirement that you live in separate homes following separation. If your circumstances both practically and emotionally allow, you can separate from your spouse whilst remaining under the same roof.

You should set out everything that you have agreed in a 'deed of separation' - this will add certainty to the arrangements that can be useful for both parties in this stressful time. It is possible to have this agreement recognised by a court if you feel this is necessary. However, the process for doing this is very similar to divorce procedure and is normally used only where at least one of the parties objects to a divorce, often on religious grounds.

Even if you decide to remain separated as opposed to becoming divorced, there are still circumstances where legal action may be required, including:

• where you have suffered domestic violence
• where your spouse refuses or fails to provide adequate financial support
• where your spouse refuses you access to your children

Additionally, there are certain negative aspects of remaining legally separated. While you may feel like separation is the best option, your spouse may be planning for divorce. A long separation may give your spouse time to ensure assets are unavailable to you, such as a business they own. If you have concerns that your spouse may do this, you should act quickly to ensure you receive the divorce settlement you are entitled to. Similarly, circumstances change and during a long separation you might find your wealth increases significantly, or that of your spouse declines - especially if they meet a new financially dependent partner. These changes over time could dramatically affect your financial circumstances if you eventually decide to divorce.

To find out more about divorce and separation read our family law guides.

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