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Although it may no be the most popular choice, a legal separation can be a good option for married couples that have been together for many years and may need extra time to sort through issues of property division, spousal support and child custody and visitation arrangements.

The celebrity case of Jane Seymour is a recent example. The actress announced last spring that she was separating from her 65-year-old husband of twenty years. A few weeks ago, the 62-year-old actress filed for legal separation, citing irreconcilable differences in the court documents. The couple has 17-year-old twin sons.

California law offers a procedure for legal separation. Many couples might elect this option in the interests of saving time and money. For example, it may be possible for a legally separated spouse to keep insurance benefits. Generally, such benefits are terminated by divorce.

On the other hand, Seymour’s example illustrates that a legal separation agreement might be used as placeholder until a couple has negotiated all aspects of their divorce. Seymour’s 17-year-old twin sons might be one reason why the couple wanted a legal separation. The couple might be waiting until their twins reach the age of 18 — the legal age of adulthood — until filing for divorce. That way, in the event the couple does file for divorce, they won’t have to deal with child custody issues.

Alternatively, a legal separation may provide the distance and other benefits of divorce, without requiring Seymour and her husband to go through all of the hassle of a divorce proceeding. Even matters of property division and alimony or spousal support can be specified in legal separation papers.

Source: usatoday.com, “Jane Seymour files legal separation papers,” Ann Oldenburg, Oct. 29, 2013