It's no secret that a divorce can be an unpleasant experience. Battles over child custody and property division can be time-consuming and emotionally taxing. It's only natural that some spouses are reluctant to begin the process.
In some cases, however, spouses simply skip the divorce; they move out and start to live separate lives even though they are still legally married. In some cases, this can go on for years.
It may seem tempting to some couples to sidestep the divorce process, but spouses should know that living in this sort of marital limbo can present risks to both spouses.
In particular, it may affect the amount of spousal maintenance that a non-working spouse may receive. In a normal divorce, a working spouse is often asked to make regular payments, also known as alimony, to the nonworking spouse as a way to ensure his or her financial stability while he or she begins a new, independent life. It can take a great deal of time for a spouse who hasn't worked in a few years to retrain and re-enter the workforce. Alimony is designed to ease that process.
When the couple has been separated for a long time, however, the nonworking spouse has probably already moved on and re-entered the workforce. He or she likely has a job, a home and a stable financial outlook. Alimony in this situation will probably be viewed as less essential; the spouse may receive less.
Furthermore, if the formerly non-working spouse has been living for several years with a lower standard of living than he or she had before the separation, a judge may look upon this as evidence that the spouse does not need as much alimony to survive. He or she may then award a lesser amount.
When reconciliation becomes impossible, it makes very little sense to delay the inevitable divorce. Indeed, the process is often faster and easier than many people assume, and when it is done, spouses are free to begin a new life with a fresh start.
Forbes, "Putting Off Divorce? Ten Ways Long-term Separations Can Do Women More Harm Than Good" Jeff Landers, Oct. 03, 2013