All but seven states recognize some form of legal documentation of separation. When a husband and wife part ways to live in separate households, all they have built together, including their family, is left vulnerable without some protective measures in place to address those things. This is particularly true for the spouse who leaves the marital home and establishes a separate residence.
A legal separation does not occur simply because spouses no longer live together. To qualify as "legal" there must be a filing with the court that cements their terms of separation, including disposition of assets, support and custody. Many states, including Maine, also call this a Judgment for Separate Maintenance. Such a document does not mean that the parties are not free to reconcile. Maine does not mandate that a divorce must naturally follow. But if you do reconcile, your judgment should be dismissed so that any ordered support is not accruing in the court's eyes after you resume living together.
Some people choose this avenue over an absolute divorce for religious reasons. It can also serve as a "cooling out" period while an absolute divorce is being considered, with all of the advantages of a divorce where property protection, support and maintenance are concerned.
Maine defines legal separation as a process that begins much like a typical divorce, with one party filing a petition with the court. Both spouses will then meet with a family law magistrate. In the absence of an agreement between the parties, the magistrate may refer the matter to a judge, but he maintains the power to order protection in the interim until your case can be heard. These temporary orders are sometimes called "pendente lite" orders, meaning that the terms prevail until a final judgment can be entered. If parties are able to reach an agreement, a Maine magistrate has the power to grant a legal separation and the terms of the agreement will be entered as a judgment with the court.
Medical insurance generally terminates for a spouse once parties are divorced. Since legal separations are recognized in Maine, you can go this route and generally be permitted to continue to cover your spouse on your policy. Be warned, however, that some insurance companies are picking up on this trend and instituting measures to curtail it. Furthermore, entering a legal judgment of separation instead of just living apart allows the Maine courts to enforce terms of support and child custody and visitation if one party is not adhering to the terms of the judgment. Without a legal document to enforce, an individual can be left without recourse if her spouse is not cooperating.
Once a judgment has been entered for separate maintenance or separation, it is no longer possibly for a couple to jointly file taxes. This could result in some unpleasant financial repercussions.
Legal separation simply provides for a disposition of assets, support and a parenting plan while spouses live apart. It does not end the marriage, so parties are not free to remarry until and unless an absolute judgment of divorce is entered.