It is not uncommon for couples facing complex asset division to enter into informal long-term separations instead of pursuing lengthy, often contentious divorce negotiations. For couples with adequate financial resources, living apart might seem like the least unpleasant solution, especially if both parties have a satisfactory standard of living. Delaying a formal agreement, however, can lead to disaster for unprotected spouses.
Long-term separations are bad for wives for many reasons; chief among them is the potential loss of control over marital assets. Some women may no longer know what their husbands are buying and selling in their stock portfolio and retirement accounts. Long-term separations also offer spouses time to hide assets that will be difficult to discover when a divorce is negotiated.
Additionally, in today's economy, financial situations can change quickly. Spouses may lose jobs or become ill and go on disability during a separation. This could mean taking on significant new debt, business deals gone bad, or engagements in questionable practices on tax returns—each of which could significantly impact financial security. A divorce settlement is based on current financial circumstances, not on circumstances that existed when you separated.
Finally, for women, the chances are good the separated husband will meet someone new. He may start using joint assets to buy gifts, jewelry, and vacations or even contribute to support a new courtship financially. He may move to a state with more favorable divorce laws: Many states have imposed strict limits on the length and amount of alimony judges can award, and alimony reform is likely to be revisited in the 2014 session of the Florida legislature. Such a move could severely impact the value of a final financial settlement.
If you are in a long-term separation, now is the time to talk to a lawyer to establish a settlement framework for marital property and asset distribution. An agreement protecting your standard of living and future financial security is worth the short-term discomfort that may accompany negotiations.
Source: Forbes.com, "Putting Off Divorce? Ten Ways Long-Term Separations Can Do Women More Harm than Good," Jeff Landers, Oct. 3, 2013