It is important to bear in mind that the primary difference between a divorce and a legal separation in Maine is the final disposition of the marriage; little else differs. Regardless, some couples are more comfortable with a divorce, others are more comfortable with a legal separation, and some actually go through both. To understand the key distinctions between the two marriage dissolution options, it's best to understand why a person would file for one or the other in the first place.
Divorce versus Legal Separation
When a couple divorces, they are no longer legally married and are free to legally pursue other marital relationships. When a couple legally separates, they remain legally married and cannot pursue other marital relationships. As discussed above, this final disposition of the marriage is the only difference between the two, i.e. whether the state recognizes the couple as legally married or legally "unmarried" through divorce.
Why Couples Seek Legal Separation
It might seem cut and dry that if you want to end your marriage you should get a divorce, but there are extenuating circumstances that warrant a legal separation as the better solution to the couple's problems. For example, many couples seek legal separation in Maine because:
- their religious or moral beliefs prohibit divorce, consequently making dissolving the marriage via this option a prohibited act
- they desire to continue to maintain the same healthcare coverage or other marital benefits, which would cancel for one spouse at the dissolution of the marriage
- they want to test the waters of divorce, i.e. set up a separation agreement, including support and visitation rights if children are involved, and then live separately to determine if this is what they truly desire and what is in the entire family's best interest.
If you consider these reasons, you can see that legal separation is, at times, the more suitable option for a married couple that desires to part ways.
Why Couples Seek Divorce
It's straightforward why couples divorce: They want to end their marriage legally. The reasons for this are countless, but the bottom line is once the divorce is final, you are no longer considered married. When a couple seeks to divorce, they are ending their union and moving forward as legally classified single individuals. They divide their property, set up custodial and support arrangements for the kids, and are free to move on into other legally binding relationships should they desire to do so.
The point of divorce is to dissolve the marriage, and those who are not of a faith or under other circumstances where divorce would produce an undesired result usually choose divorce over legal separation. The dissolution is permanent, and the ex-spouses are free to move forward with their lives with no strings attached - other than the strings set forth in the final divorce settlement.
What If Questions
There are many "what if" questions running through your head when you're considering separating from your spouse. One of the most important ones is, "What if we decide to get back together?" If you are asking yourself that question, it might be wise to consider a legal separation prior to divorce. A legal separation does not dissolve your marriage; even though you and your spouse are living apart, you are still married. If you are questioning whether you really want to divorce your spouse, perhaps a legal separation is in order first. This allows you to draft an agreement, much like a divorce agreement, and live separately under these terms.
Once apart, should both of you decide that you don't want to divorce, you do not have to remarry, as your marriage wasn't legally dissolved in the first place. If you divorce and decide to get back together, you must legally remarry if you want to enter into marriage again.
If the opposite happens during the legal separation and you realize that living apart is best for you and your children, you may move forward with your divorce and make amendments to your separation agreement as needed for your final divorce agreement.
As you can see, the difference between divorce and legal separation in Maine is whether you are still considered legally married. In a divorce, you are not; in a legal separation, you are. Both give the couple the safety net of a separation agreement, binding each to specific responsibilities within their separated state. The Law Office of William T. Bly practices family law in Maine and understands the complexities of deciding whether to divorce or legally separate, as well as the legal procedures for filing both.