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Separation and divorce

A new study published by a large university reveals that there tends to be little difference in long-term effects for couples that divorce versus those that opt for long-term separation. Maryland and many other states allow couples to file for legal separation, allowing them to establish spousal support, child custody and other similar factors without the finality of a divorce filing. Sometimes, couples separate without a legal filing of any kind, which can make it difficult to track how common long-term separations really are.

The study, released to coincide with a yearly conference held by the American Sociological Association, collected data from more than 7,000 U.S. citizens who are either currently married or have been married in the past. The data revealed that about 49 percent of respondents ended up leaving their first marriage, 60 percent of whom decided on trial marital separations instead of immediate divorce. Approximately 80 percent of respondents who chose trial separations eventually decided to pursue legal divorce. Of the remaining 20 percent, three quarters of respondents decided to remain in long-term separations while one quarter attempted to reconcile and restore their marriages.

The study's authors said that long-term marital separation appears to function as "low-cost, do-it-yourself alternative to divorce for many disadvantaged couples" after finding separations particularly prevalent among undereducated, low-income and minority couples. The researchers suggested that many people choose long-term separation in lieu of divorce to save money, with some possibly concerned that a legal divorce would make it more difficult to secure alimony or child support from their spouses. "Separation may not be their first choice, but they may feel it is their best choice," explained one researcher.

The authors hypothesized that some respondents may have pursued separation due to religious objections to divorce, but the collected evidence did not support this assertion.

Source: Star Tribune, "The demographics of couples who separate, but don't divorce," Jeremy Olson, Aug. 20, 2012

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