Marriage is one of the most complicated social institutions because of the intimate nature of relationships involved. The breakdown of a marriage therefore cannot be dealt simplistically which is why most developed civil societies offers its citizens various legal options like a separation or divorce. The two are however not the same. So if your date says that he/she is separated, here is what you need to keep in mind.
Know the difference
Being separated is not the same thing as being divorced. The chief distinction between divorce and legal separation lies in the degree of the dissolution of the marriage. In case of a legal separation also known as judicial separation, the estranged couple live in separate households but their marriage is not legally terminated. However in case of divorce, the estranged couple is allowed by the court to fully dissolve their marriage. The legal specifics of separation and divorced usually differ according to the laws of the country and state. In United States, both separation and divorce are legal actions but there are differences in the procedure of obtaining each. In case of the former, both parties are required to file separation agreement forms in a civil court following which they are allowed to live apart and be considered legally separated. In case of divorce, the forms to be filed are known ‘petition for divorce’ and may or may not – depending on the laws of the particular state where the divorce is being filed – include a “notice of motion of divorce”. While a court order approving the terms of the legal separation is usually sufficient to enable the estranged parties live away from one another, a divorce on the other hand may involve a formal court action, contestation, a trial and court motions in order to be fully completed.
Your partner’s marital status
While being divorced reverts back a person’s marital status to single, it can be a little more complicated in case of separation. As evident from their respective definitions, a legal separation involves the parties living apart from each other while they are still legally married while a divorce means the complete dissolution of a marriage by law. In case of judicial separation the parties are not legally allowed to enter into another marriage while a divorce restores a person to the status of a single person and leaves him/her free to remarry. Also during the period of legal separation any child born out of the marriage continues to retain its legitimacy. Thus if the person you are seeing claims to be separated, it is likely that he/she cannot marry you without going further and obtaining a legal divorce. However there are no laws preventing a person from dating even while being legally separated from his/her spouse. Still since different states have different laws for marriage and divorce, it is best to check with the laws of your state – or where your partner has filed for separation – to find out the truth about his/her marital status.
Enquire into the grounds of separation
There are many reasons why your partner may have chosen legal separation from his/her spouse over a divorce. Among the most common reasons why an estranged couple may choose to be legally separated rather than divorced is to continue to obtain benefits in taxation, military lifestyle or financial transactions which they may have been getting as a married couple. A similar reason is being able to keep insurance benefits on a spouse’s coverage. In case of a divorce however, most of these benefits are terminated. Sometimes a legal separation is a temporary arrangement which may be financial - like deciding who will pay the bills, possess property and whether alimony is required - or which may have to do with the interim plans for the care, custody and financial support of children from the marriage. If you are seriously dating such a person, it would help to know the facts behind the particular legal option so that you know where you stand in this relationship.
Be prepared to share your partner with his/her family
When dating someone who is separated, be prepared for the fact that he/she may be seeing a lot of their spouse and children, if any, from the marriage. Your partner could have certain financial and parental responsibilities as laid out in the separation agreement. Thus he/she may not be able to invest the kind of resources and time into your relationship which he/she may have been able to do as a single person. And even though a divorced person also needs to pay alimony and child support, in this case at least you could have a greater claim on your date’s time and socializing.
Have realistic expectations
If you are dating someone who just separated from a spouse, it is crucial that you keep your expectations on a realistic level. They may be depending on you to fill up the newly-created emptiness in their lives or even as a way to avoid facing the reality of the end of the previous relationship. Thus don’t expect your partner to act as pillar of emotional support for you or to give a lot to this relationship. They still need some time to get back their emotional bearings and your needs and priorities may not always come first with them. Just because a person has started dating again does not mean that he/she has completely put a failed marriage behind them. Thus you may find your partner crossing an entire spectrum of emotions and wildly swinging from one mood to another. He/she may be celebrating their new-found love one moment and the very next, grieving over the fact that things didn’t work out in their marriage. Try not to take it personally when they are occasionally feeling blue or appear to be missing their spouse and family. This does not necessarily mean that they want to go back to their marriage; it is only a part of the normal process of coming to terms with the separation.
Take care of yourself
However if you feel that you have been doing all the giving in this relationship and your partner is simply dating you on the rebound, then you need to ask him/her if they are truly ready for a new relationship. Perhaps they could take some time and think matters through or you could keep your dating to a purely companionable level. Also it could be possible that your partner may want to patch up with their spouse and go back to their family. Indeed some states in USA may make it compulsory for a couple who has filed for a divorce to go through a mandatory period of legal separation; the chief purpose of a separation is to give the estranged couple enough time to re-consider their decision of dissolving the marriage. A divorce on the other hand is characterized chiefly by the finality of the action and chances of getting back with an ex are fewer as compared to when a couple is merely separated. Thus when dating someone like this, you need to watch out for your emotional and financial integrity so that you are not left high and dry in the end.