Legal Separation as an Alternative to Divorce in Alabama

One of the questions I get often from people contemplating divorce is whether they should consider a legal separation as an alternative. Here are some thoughts about it.

First, there’s a good reason NOT to do a legal separation in Alabama. Because legal separation is unusual and requires special handling, it tends to cost more than an uncontested divorce. For example, I charge $100 more for an uncontested legal separation than I charge for an uncontested divorce. Anecdotally, I would guess that something like 75% of those who use me to prepare an uncontested legal separation return later to do an uncontested divorce (meaning they paid me twice). So if the choice is between an uncontested divorce and an uncontested legal separation, you clearly would pay less with an uncontested divorce.

There’s also a non-financial reason to avoid legal separation. Legal separation leaves spouses in an uncertain Neverland where they’re sort of married, sort of single. Can they date? Can they have sex? What happens if they live with someone? Legally, the answers to these questions are clear, but culturally, they could hardly be more murky. Imagine the conversation between a legally separated person and a possible romantic partner. “So you’re divorced?” “Well, no, not exactly . . . ”

So why would anyone ever choose legal separation over divorce? I think there are four main reasons:

1. Many employers who stop providing medical insurance to a divorced spouse of an employee will continue covering a legally separated spouse. For some of us, that may be reason enough right there. If continuation of health insurance is critical for the nonworking spouse, and if it’s difficult or burdensome to purchase it elsewhere, a legal separation may be the best solution.

2. Some of us still live and work in peer groups where divorce is so shameful, so embarrassing, that we must avoid it at all costs. Some pastors fall into this category, but there are other professionals as well. I remember well the successful attorney who wanted to avoid divorce because the lawyer who led his firm was so disapproving of divorce. If either spouse struggles with this, legal separation may make sense as an alternative to divorce.

3. Legal separation is reversible. Divorce can be reversed by remarrying, but it’s not the same, and we all know it. If either spouse is hopeful that the marriage can be saved, legal separation may be a nice alternative.

4. This is sort of a corollary to #3. If you’re the spouse who wants a divorce, and if you and your spouse are in danger of going to war over a divorce, it’s possible that your spouse would agree to a legal separation. If so, you may find that the legal separation is appealing as an alternative. Yes, you will pay more for an uncontested legal separation than for an uncontested divorce, and yes, you expect that it will be simply a matter of time before you’re back to do an uncontested divorce, but the cost of both transactions is still FAR less than you would pay for an adversarial divorce, and it might offer your spouse a gentler grieving process as well.

57 thoughts on “Legal Separation as an Alternative to Divorce in Alabama”

  1. If u r in the middle of a divorce or are divorced in alabama and your exspouse lets someone move in with them while they are not married do you have to allow visitation?

  2. Yes, until you have an order from the judge saying you don’t. Most judges will agree to insert a provision prohibiting unmarried romantic partners spending the night where the children are residing or visiting, but even that wouldn’t necessarily give the CP the right to withhold visitation.

  3. Hi. I couldn’t find a thread for NY, sorry for posting in this one.

    I am seriously considering a divorce to a husband who has admitted to cheating and who has been aggressive to me in few times in the recent past. He has a lover, and it has come to the point that we can’t make ends meet because he is spending so much money in restaurants with her, etc. My worry is that I do not make as much as he does so I do not know if there are any ways to pay for the attorney?

    Also, we have two children. One is 12 and the other one is in college and older than 18. Both are closer to me than him – he barely spends any time at home. I am worried about them and wanted to know how child support works? If I were to get custody, would I be able to get child support for both or just the minor? My issue is that since I am not making much above 15k a year (he is the “breadwinner”), the eldest could be in danger of not continuing college because of the tuition costs and that.

    We have been together for longer than 20 years and got married at around the time we had our second child. We owned a home and we are still paying for them. That is another worry of mine, that he abandons us and not being able to sustain myself and my children. How would the family house be allocated and how would the assets be divided? Would there be any chance for alimony payments (again, due to my low salary) or is that out of the picture?

    Thank in advance,

    Martha W

    1. Good questions, all. Unfortunately, you’re asking them of a guy who doesn’t know the facts of your case, the proclivities of your judge, or even the applicable law in your state. For what it’s worth (and it’s really not worth much), in most states the judge would look for some way to divide the marital assets and debts of your marriage in an equitable way, and alimony would be not just possible but likely.

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