What Is Legal Separation?

Our firm, along with our clients, believe medical insurance to be a major factor to consider in a divorce scenario. The financial focus of divorce lawyers has traditionally been drawn to splitting assets and advocating for or against spousal support (alimony).

Today, when thinking about a marriage that is at its end, maintaining existing medical insurance is often a major factor for one who has his/her health (medical/dental) insurance through a spouse. Health insurance is expensive; policies purchased on the open market may not be as comprehensive as those provided by some employers.

Retaining Health Insurance Coverage

The loss of health insurance can be drastic and catastrophic. Many employers have changed their policies so that they no longer allow a divorced spouse to remain on the employee's health insurance. Beginning with divorces granted after January 1, 2014, a Rhode Island state employee cannot retain a divorced spouse on his/her health insurance. Say good-bye to the practice whereby an employee could retain a divorced spouse on the health insurance plan.

  • One option is to choose a "legal separation" instead of a divorce. In legal terms, the legal separation is called a "divorce from bed and board" while the legal term for a divorce is an "absolute divorce".
  • In a bed and board divorce, the parties negotiate (or the court decides) all of the same issues involved in an absolute divorce, including custody, parenting plans, child support, spousal support, a division of all of the assets and debts and the treatment of life and health insurance. When the parties are granted a legal separation (the divorce from bed and board), they remain married so the spouse remains on the health insurance as then presently in effect, with no change.
  • The bed and board divorce agreement can provide that in the event of a future absolute divorce, the same terms will be incorporated, so there is no further negotiations and neither party shares in the assets and earnings received after the legal separation is approved.

"Although this is a rarely used left-over from previous generations of Rhode Islanders who were opposed to divorce for religious or moral reasons, I believe that there may still be times when a legal separation is useful."- Attorney Hirsch

There are other considerations that need to be remembered. Since there is no divorce, neither party can file their taxes as 'single"; either the parties file jointly or "married but separate". Neither party is free to remarry. Parties may need to file additional documents to change the beneficiaries of retirement plans, as the spouse is the automatic beneficiary. The costs for a divorce from bed and board are the same as an absolute divorce as the process of filing and negotiating are the same as in an absolute divorce.

Lastly, when one spouse files for a legal separation, the other spouse can file a counter claim seeking an absolute divorce, which he/she will be entitled to obtain. To further discuss your options with our attorney, call us at 401-287-2079 or contact us online.