Wondering If You Should Get A Divorce? Here Are 5 Legal Alternatives

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Should I Get A Divorce? What Is An Annulment & Kinds Of Marriage Separation
Family, Heartbreak

You suddenly found yourself in an unhappy and loveless marriage. You're seeing signs your marriage is over. So, you ask yourself, "Should I get a divorce?"

Endings lead to new beginnings. Many of us long for a new chapter, a new reality, and we know that we need to end our marriage in order to start fresh.

But, on some level, we don’t want to (or simply can’t) get a divorce. Can a marriage truly end without going through the whole divorce process?

RELATED: 9 Questions You Must Consider Before Filing For Divorce

Ideally, how you end your marriage will be predicated by what you want your new beginning to look like.

Do you want to explore who you are on a deeper level? Are you looking to find a more suitable partner? Do you want to regain lost power and control? Are you escaping from a high conflict spouse? Or are you just tired and looking for a change?

Although loaded with so much history and negativity, divorce is a very clear ending and it can lead to some very specific beginnings.

Getting a divorce may be the clearest way to end a marriage, but there are other ways as well.

Not divorcing can be beneficial, but it can also leave things murky, or expose you to potential risks. You will need to decide what is best for you, and the way in which you want to move forward.

Let’s explore the various options, starting with your motivation. Why wouldn’t you divorce? If you know you want to end your marriage, what’s stopping you from getting a divorce?

After working as a divorce coach for so many years, I’ve heard a multitude of reasons why people who want to end their marriage shy away from divorce and here are 7 of them.

1. Religious

There can be both external and internal religious reasons to not divorce. Some religions do not allow, permit, or acknowledge divorce, while others frown heavily upon it. There can be extreme pressure from a religious community, resulting in a fear of being judged or ostracized.

Friendships can be lost and you could be asked to leave your religious network. Maybe you’re feeling an inner spiritual conflict — a crisis of faith. You want to to honor the vows you took before God and all of the people in your life that you love.

Viewing marriage as a sacred covenant, and that staying committed to your spouse is the moral thing to do — sticking with your commitments for better and for worse, etc.

2. Fear and pain

Divorce elicits a tremendous fear of the unknown. Fear of leaving a "good" spouse to potentially spend a life isolated and alone, never finding that more suitable partner, or the great love of your life.

You're risking everything you know, for a life filled with uncertainty. You fear of all of the changes that come with divorce — moving, dividing assets, providing for yourself, managing a household on your own, what will happen to your children, extended family, network of friends, and religious community?

Many of us are afraid to face all of the emotions and pain that come with divorce as well. We want to avoid all of the heartache and the ugliness that comes with a divorce battle.

3. Financial

There are so many financial reasons people choose to remain married — tax breaks, shared pensions, social security benefits, and healthcare coverage. How can a family under one roof, that’s barely getting by with two paychecks, split everything and now maintain two households?

Without your spouse, you may not qualify for the mortgage on your marital home. How about if you’ve never managed your money before? Now you’ve got to learn a whole new skill set. And then there’s the prospect of all those very expensive legal fees.

The cost to get divorced can be astronomical!

3. Insurance

Sometimes, people stay together so that they can maintain their health insurance. Health care coverage in this country can be a major expense. There are many roadblocks to getting new insurance on your own. Maybe you are of an advanced age but don’t yet qualify for Medicare or you have a pre-existing medical condition.

Sometimes, getting new insurance is extremely difficult, outrageously expensive, or just plain impossible.

4. Children

Many people choose to stay married for their children.

They believe that it’s in their best interest to not move the kids around or separate them from either parent for extended periods of time.

4. Inertia

Maybe you're stuck in your routine and never get around to doing the necessary research or finding the appropriate mediator or attorney.

We focus on the to-do list that’s always in front of us, and move through life ignoring the red flags —just going through the motions. It takes too much effort to make such a momentous change.

5. Societal pressure

You could be worried about the stigma of getting divorced. Many powerful couples in either politics or the world of business feel that they need to be married.

Many social circles are made up of "alike" people — couples tend to have friends who are also couples. You feel pressured by your social network, your business network, and your family to stay together.

There’s an external system in place that keeps you in your marriage.

With so many reasons to stay, but an internal motivation to go that will not be denied, you have to find a way out.

You know in your heart that you simply cannot go on living together. So, what can you do?

Since a marriage is a legal contract mandated by the state that you live in, you need the state’s permission to grant a legal dissolution to your marriage. Under state laws, you are either married or single.

To legally end your marriage, you only have the choice of divorce or annulment. There is such a thing as legal separation, but know that under the eyes of the law, you will still be considered married, even if you are legally separated.

So, in order to end a marriage without the need for a divorce, here are 5 alternatives.

1. Annulment

An annulment is a legal decree that means the marriage is null and void, like it never happened at all. Divorce ends the marriage but recognizes that the marriage existed and lasted for a certain period of time. After an annulment, you (and your spouse) will be free to remarry or enter into a registered domestic partnership.

The grounds for obtaining an annulment are typically very limited. States have different measures for when a marriage may be annulled, and you’ll need to research what yours are, but some common allowable reasons are:

  • Incest (Specific familial relationships that apply will depend on state law.)
  • Bigamy (If you or your spouse were already married or in a registered domestic partnership.)
  • Incurable impotence (Not known at the time of marriage.)
  • Force, fraud, misrepresentation, concealment, or lack of consent, under duress or through incapacity (mental or physical)
  • If you or your spouse were not of legal marital age.
  • If you or your spouse married while your judgment was impaired by drugs or alcohol.

RELATED: 5 Things To Know Before Separating From Your Husband Or Wife (That Could Save Your Marriage)

Generally, someone has to be at fault. They lied or intentionally duped you and the lie needs to be significant — if you had known, you would not have married them.

There could also have been concealment — the hiding of material facts, not necessarily lying about them.

Did your spouse hide the fact that they had a criminal record? Did your spouse purposefully neglect to tell you that they are not physically able to have children? Or can have them, but do not want to have them? If you want children and thought your spouse would have them, then learn later that the cannot or will not, this could potentially be a major issue.

Getting an annulment awarded is generally rare and difficult. The burden of proof will be upon you to prove that the circumstances warrant the annulment, and you will need to provide the necessary evidence.

Additionally, similar to a divorce, you will need to divide up any assets acquired during your marriage. And if you have any minor children, questions of child custody will need to be addressed.

2. Separation

There are three common types of separation: trial, permanent, and legal. Many couples choose to remain married but effectively end their marriage through separation. As noted above, in the eyes of the law you will still be legally married, and would not be able to remarry or live in a registered domestic partnership.

In many states, separation affects your rights so you will want to seek the advice of legal counsel, before separating if possible. Also, the date of your separation may impact your rights and is often hotly contested.

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Do your research to see if separation is a viable option for you.

One benefit to being separated is that if you’re not sure you want to end your marriage, it’s much easier to reconcile. You simply revoke the separation. If you’re divorced, you would have to go through the process of getting married again.

Please note that if you’re considering a legal separation (rather than divorce) so that you may keep your health insurance, check with your plan before moving ahead. Many insurance companies consider separation to be the same as divorce and may use it as grounds to terminate your health benefits.

3. Trial separation

A trial separation is when you and your spouse simply need a break. You want some time and space to think things through, and see if you’re headed towards reconciliation or ending the marriage.

You don’t necessarily need to have any sort of written or formal agreement, although many divorce experts will suggest that you have at least an informal agreement outlining who does what and when.

For example, will you continue to share finances during this time? Who will live where? Will you be in communication with each other? How often? Will it be on your own or with the help of a therapist or couple’s counselor? If you have children, what will be said to them, and how will this trial separation affect them?

4. Permanent separation

Permanent separation is when you and your spouse live apart and you have no intention of reconciling. As mentioned above, research how your state treats separation.

Are you protected if your spouse incurs any new debts? Are you entitled to any assets or income your spouse earns after you separate? These questions may affect your plans, and the decisions you’ll make. Also, moving out of the marital home may impact issues of child custody. It’s very important to know before you go.

5. Legal separation

Like a divorce, legal separation results in a formal division of your finances, property and other assets, and sets orders related to custody of your children.

Legal separation also addresses child and spousal support, as well as how debts will be divided. It requires paperwork that you file with the court system, which gets turned into a court order, similar to a divorce.

However, your status does not change. You still remain legally married. It makes it easier to divorce down the road if you or your spouse decide to move in that direction, as most of the legal legwork has already been done.

However, there are some risks to separation.

Unless you have a legal separation filed and ratified by the courts, a trial or permanent separation generally does not change the financial responsibilities between you and your spouse.

You still have an active fiduciary responsibility to each other, and to the partnership. If your spouse acquires a lot of debt, you’re still on the hook for your share of it. If you win the lottery, your spouse is still entitled to their share of it.

What if you’re separated and you or your spouse dies? There could be a mess for the survivors. Legal separation preserves each spouse's legal rights to property benefits upon the death of the other, but a divorce extinguishes these rights.

There’s also a risk that you could lose track of your spouse altogether, which could leave you in the lurch if you need their consent or signature for something. Maybe one day you’ll decide you want to divorce because you met someone and want to remarry, and your spouse is nowhere to be found, this would obviously be problematic.

People usually end their marriages for all sorts of reasons, but it usually boils down to the fact that they are unhappy. The partnership is dysfunctional and beyond repair. The life they are living is either a lie or a fantasy, and they long to be more genuine and authentic.

The path you take to this new life is up to you. Will you be able to live in your marriage as it is? Will you be able to reinvent it after working with a therapist or a divorce coach? Or is it time to end it and move on?

Can you end your marriage without a divorce through annulment or some type of separation? Or is it time to dig deeper and look at a more final and clear cut ending.

RELATED: 10 Main Reasons Why Divorce Is So Common These Days

Kira Gould is a certified divorce coach. If you’d like to explore if your marriage is truly over, or if divorce is a better fit, check out the Getting Unmarried™ transformational tools.

This article was originally published at Getting Unmarried™. Reprinted with permission from the author.