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US Couples Keep Choosing Legal Separation Over Divorce

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 23, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It seems more American couples are pursuing legal separation agreements these days as they consider divorce. Savvy attorneys may want to take note.

Case in point: Colorado, where 72% of divorcing couples filed legal separation agreements last year, up from 60% in 2007, The Denver Post reports.

The sluggish economy means more couples are seeking separation agreements instead of racking up costs in contentious court battles, the Post suggests. Even in an era of do-it-yourself legal forms, that could mean a lot more work for attorneys.

Most couples who pursue legal separation agreements are looking to save money -- either by reaching an agreement on their own, or by reaping the supposed financial benefits of being separated instead of divorced, one financial planner writes for Forbes.

Attorneys may want to market themselves accordingly. Perhaps you can offer a flat fee to review a separation agreement for a party, or include a draft separation agreement as part of a package of legal services.

At the very least, it may be a good idea to become more familiar with legal separation agreements: Studying a sample agreement like this one is one place to start.

A party who's seeking a separation may also need a financial reality check. Many couples tend to believe that being legally separated will be better for their bank accounts than being divorced. But that's not always true, the Forbes contributor warns. Consider the following:

  • Joint-filing tax benefits aren't guaranteed: Depending on state laws, the tax code may view a couple's "legal separation" as a divorce -- or it may consider a "separated" couple married until a final divorce decree.
  • Health & Social Security benefits are complicated: Separated spouses may be able to retain health insurance under their partner's plan; they may also be eligible for greater Social Security benefits if they don't officially get divorced for at least 10 years.

Whatever the reason, your skills as a lawyer can play a big role in protecting a party's finances -- and her rights in general -- in crafting a legal separation agreement. Keeping your skills sharp in this area of law will keep you one step ahead of the curve.

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