Choosing Legal Separation or Divorce in Arizona

When troubles come up in a marriage in Arizona, the spouses face decisions about how to cope. Sometimes it appears impossible for the couple to continue to live together, because it may not be certain that the marriage is entirely over. An option for many couples is to arrange for a legal separation instead of immediately pursuing divorce.

Both separation and divorce are legally binding arrangements arrived at in court. Determining which one is appropriate depends on each couple’s individual situation.

Finances and Separation

When a couple becomes legally separated, a court order specifies the responsibilities of both parties, just like in a divorce. Financially, there are some big differences. Separated partners can continue to share benefits, including health insurance. When one spouse has health insurance and includes the other on the policy, there is no need to remove the other spouse from the policy in a separation. After divorce, though, the ex-spouse must be removed from health insurance coverage.

The court order may specify that one separated spouse is to pay the other a certain amount monthly for maintenance. The spouse who receives support will want to be careful not to settle for too low an amount, in case the separation eventually becomes a divorce. If it will be necessary to receive alimony after divorce, the amount that was ordered during the separation may be assumed to be adequate to meet the ex-spouse’s needs, so asking for more could prove challenging.

An important financial consideration during separation is that if the couple continues to share a bank account, credit card accounts and property, one partner could possibly run up large bills, drain an account or sell property. Some attorneys advise against separation for just that reason.

Divorce Implications

Once a couple divorces, they lose legal benefits of marriage including filing taxes jointly, making decisions for the spouse and having rights of inheritance. Ex-spouses can also lose shared Social Security benefits, unless the marriage lasted at least 10 years. If the marriage did last 10 years or more, a divorced spouse may do better to collect a portion of the ex-spouse’s benefits if that spouse was a high earner.

Some couples choose separation because of religious beliefs and remain separated indefinitely. In Arizona, separation is an option only if both parties agree; if one files a petition for legal separation and the other objects, the action becomes a divorce proceeding.

It is important to consult with an attorney familiar with Arizona family law when contemplating either divorce or legal separation. A knowledgeable attorney can help weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives.