Separation or Divorce: Which is Best for Troubled Couples?

They file joint income tax returns and she's covered by his insurance policy. They even have a marriage license. But John Frost and his wife live in different states, seeing each other only a couple of times a year.

The couple profiled in the New York Times is married, but has been separated since 2000, when his company relocated him from Virginia to Tennessee.

Frost says he and his wife like their situation and have no plans to divorce.

Frost and his wife are part of an emerging trend in American society: couples who separate but remain married, sometimes for years; sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Financial Motivations

Divorce attorneys and marriage counselors say most long-term separations are for financial reasons, including the following:

  • One of the spouses may have a medical condition that would make it difficult to get health insurance on their own
  • The family house has dropped in value, making a sale financially untenable
  • A former spouse qualifies for a portion of the ex's Social Security benefits if their marriage lasts 10 years
  • Tax breaks

Disincentives to Remaining Separated


While there can be sound reasons for some couples to remain married while living separately, there are also sound reasons for separated couples to consider ending their marriage.

  • If one-half of the estranged couple goes deeply into debt, the other spouse can be held responsible.
  • If one spouse inherits sizable assets or sees a surge in income, those benefits might have to be shared.

Of course, there are often romantic reasons for ending a marriage, too: a spouse meets someone new and wants to remarry.

What Matters Most

There is no right or wrong answer in complex matters of the heart. But there are sometimes financial matters that should be taken into consideration before deciding whether a long-term separation suits you better than divorce.

To discuss the legal advantages and disadvantages of long-term separation, contact a Michigan divorce attorney for a consultation.