The Un-Divorce

Aug 8, 2012 by

A recent article in the New York Times has uncovered a new category of unhappily married couples in the form of people who are “un-divorced.” The article noted that an increasing number of people contemplating a divorce are now taking a closer look at their finances in the downward turned economy. A lack of cash is often the motivation for people who separate, but still remain married in order to continue to enjoy the benefits of marriage like tax breaks and health care coverage. More couple are also separating but continuing to live in the same home together because they cannot afford to live on their own. Others may choose not to sell their homes in a depressed real estate market when prices are down.

The main reasons people remain married, but separated indefinitely are usually financial, especially when one considers that federal law mandates that an ex-spouse will only qualify for a portion of the other party’s Social Security benefits if their marriage has lasted at least 10 years. In short marriages lasting under a decade, it can make sense to wait to divorce. The high cost of health insurance is another big factor in the mix, especially for those with pre-existing medical conditions that make it very expensive to get new coverage. The ability to remain on a spouse’s existing insurance policy can be another good reason to hold off getting divorced.

When people can’t live with each other, but they can’t afford to go through the divorce process either, a long-term separation can make perfect sense. The result is often a situation where spouses live apart, but in the same home in order to avoid the appearance of divorce and continue to maintain their existing lifestyles. Or they may live in separate homes and live completely separate lives, and their friends and neighbors assume they have divorced, but they remain married because they see no financial advantage to getting divorced. Selling the home, getting new health insurance, splitting up pensions and other costs associated with a divorce can all make the proposition unattractive to many couples.

Being un-divorced is not without its problems though, as couples lives are still legally and financially intertwined if they stay married. Debts and assets alike are community property in most states these days, and if a spouse is financially irresponsible it hurts both parties. Overall, being un-divorced probably presents no more risk than being divorced though, and a separation of a few months can easily turn into several years in situations where the arrangement works to the benefit of both spouses.


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