If you and your spouse have recently made the difficult decision to separate, you may be unsure about your next steps. This decision can be made even more complex if you and your spouse have children in common and will need to negotiate new visitation and child support arrangements. If you live in a state where legal separation is recognized, should you file for separation and then divorce? Or will filing for divorce make the process more streamlined? Read on to learn more about the legal effects of filing for separation, as well as advantages and disadvantages of each tactic.

What is a legal separation?

A legal separation is a type of filing that can trigger court action. When you file for legal separation, you may be able to request a court hearing to discuss child support and custody matters -- just as in a divorce. However, if you are still married and have not filed for legal separation, you'll be unable to have any custody or child support arrangements ratified by the court.

Legally separated couples are still treated as married in the eyes of the law -- if you and your spouse are legally separated, you'll still be required to file either married filing jointly or married filing separately tax returns, and will be unable to remarry until you file and finalize a divorce.

When should you file for legal separation instead of divorce?

There are a number of situations in which filing for legal separation makes sense. In some cases, you and your spouse may no longer want to share the same household, but are not yet committed to the idea of divorce. By filing for a legal separation, you'll be able to iron out interim custody and child support arrangements while still leaving the door option for a potential reconciliation. In other cases, it may be financially advantageous for you and your spouse to remain married for the duration of the tax year and then divorce after January 1. Finally, some states will push through a "streamlined" divorce if the couple has already been legally separated for a certain period of time..

When should you file for divorce?

If you and your spouse's relationship is irreconcilably damaged and you don't have children in common, it may be worthwhile to file for divorce rather than going through the legal separation process. If there is little to no chance of you changing your mind, you'll be able to obtain your final divorce more quickly than if you first filed for a legal separation. However, if you're still not quite sure how you'd like things to end, a legal separation with the help of a firm like Karp Law Offices may be your best bet.