Do You Need a Separation Agreement? The Benefits of Legal Separation Before Divorce


If you are considering divorce, it can be difficult to discern all your legal options and what next steps suit you and your family. Though some couples begin divorce proceedings immediately, spending time apart through a separation agreement can be a beneficial choice for all parties.

Divorce and separation have obvious differences, as in the latter you remain married. However, you might be surprised to learn, for instance, that you might be entitled to spousal support during the separation, which becomes alimony when the divorce is finalized. Prior to deciding your next step, take a look at some of the key benefits of separation and decide what is best for your situation.

There is No “Legal Separation” in South Carolina

In South Carolina, no “legal separation” exists; a couple is either married or divorced. Couples are able to obtain an Order of Separate Support and Maintenance from a family court judge, which essentially serves as a legal separation agreement between parties.

Filing this claim will recognize the couple is living separate and apart, and enact any spousal support necessary. This is not a mandatory step towards divorce proceedings, but parties must live separately for one year in no-fault divorces in South Carolina.

1. You Still Have Access to Financial Benefits

As long as they are separated and not divorced, couples retain the financial benefits that married couples have. They can continue to:

  • File joint taxes
  • Receive social security, disability, or retirement benefits from your spouse
  • Health insurance coverage of your spouse’s employer

For this reason, some couples choose to remain separated until divorce makes more financial sense. An Order of Separate Support and Maintenance can legally protect both parties in regards to finances during the separation period.

2. Separation Is Reversible

Divorce is a major life decision, and separation can serve as a rest stop on the pathway towards divorce as a potential destination. A separation can allow time to work on the marriage and see if the parties can work out differences.

Perhaps the couple is unsure about ending the marriage. Taking the time and space a separation allows prior to divorce proceedings can give them the clarification they need on what the next steps should be. As you begin the divorce process, you want to be absolutely sure this is what you and/or your spouse want. If, in the end, both parties choose to continue the marriage, separation is reversible. 

3. The Divorce Process Is Less Overwhelming

The divorce process is incredibly complex, not to mention costly. When a couple separates first, this gives them time to slow down and move one step at a time. More hostile aspects of divorce like child custody or the division of marital property are not under a time crunch and can be more thought-out, calm decisions. 

Every couple and every situation is different. If you feel like your divorce will benefit from an Order of Separate Support and Maintenance, or want to discuss your options, don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance. Our compassionate team is here for you at every step of the way.

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