Exploring the Possibility of an Unconventional Divorce

by Team eLocal
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The most recent statistics from the Census Bureau show that around 33% of people who have been married have also gotten a divorce. Although divorce rates are the lowest they’ve been since 1970, there are still almost a million divorces each year in the United States. Considering the financial and emotional toll that divorce takes on a family, it’s no wonder couples are exploring alternatives to divorce.

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An unconventional divorce can lead to ending your marriage without a visit to family court. There are also options where your marriage doesn’t end, but the relationship changes. If you’re considering divorce, it’s helpful to understand the alternatives and how they impact your legal rights.

What Are Some Alternative Options to Divorce?

Most divorce alternatives can be loosely grouped into three categories:

  • No legal divorce: The marriage effectively ends without a divorce.
  • Alternative divorces: No or minimal divorce court proceedings, but the marriage still ends.
  • Alternative marriages: The couple chooses lifestyle alternatives rather than divorce.

The right alternative will depend on your relationship and situation. It’s best to speak to a professional about your options, as marriage and divorce laws differ between states. A professional can also ensure that everyone’s rights and interests are protected throughout the process.

These options don’t involve a divorce but still end the relationship.

Permanent Separation

A permanent separation is when you live apart from your spouse and have no intention of reconciling. Some states require a separation period before finalizing the divorce, and permanent separation is part of this process. People also choose permanent separation rather than divorce to retain insurance or ease disruption for children.

In most states, a permanent separation changes your property rights. Any property or debt acquired after the separation date belongs only to the spouse who acquired it. Custody arrangements are generally decided between spouses.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is granted by the family court. It’s not a divorce, so you can’t remarry, but you’re also not considered legally married. Reasons for legal separation include religious beliefs or a wish to keep the family together. In some cases, legal separation allows one spouse to keep health benefits, but not all insurance plans allow this.

In many ways, legal separation is very similar to divorce. The judge enters an order that specifies alimony, child custody and support arrangements and the division of property.


Annulment is an option that ends the marriage without divorce. In a legal sense, it’s as if the marriage never happened. Annulment is only available for specific reasons. The most common ones include:

  • Fraud
  • Bigamy
  • Underage spouse
  • Incapacity
  • Failure to consummate the marriage

You must file a petition for annulment with a local court, specifying your reason. A judge examines the evidence and decides if you meet annulment requirements.

If you have minor children, the court addresses child custody and support during the process. Property that’s held prior to the marriage is returned to the original owner. You should speak to a lawyer if you have joint assets to ensure they’re divided fairly. Filing for annulment also waives any right to alimony or spousal support because you were never married according to the law.

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Alternative Divorce

Alternative divorces still end in divorce but don’t involve a trip to divorce court. This helps ease the emotional and financial stress of a divorce.


In mediation, a neutral party works with both spouses to help them reach an agreement about child custody, division of property and financial support. In most states, a divorce lawyer reviews the agreement, and it’s legally binding once it’s signed. This option is quicker than a traditional divorce, and much more affordable, making it a good choice for couples who want to control their expenses.

Collaborative Divorce

If both spouses are open to compromise, a collaborative divorce can be a good choice. Like mediation, both parties meet together to resolve issues to the benefit of all. However, in collaborative divorce, each spouse has a divorce lawyer, rather than a mediator. This can be helpful. as there’s someone to advocate on your behalf. This process can ease stress, making the divorce easier on everyone, especially any minor children.

Alternative Marriages

You may consider lifestyle changes that allow you to stay married while still building the life you want. Alternative marriages avoid the financial issues of divorce, but negotiating new rules for your relationship can still be stressful. It’s important to remember that alternative marriages don’t involve any legal changes. In the eyes of the law, you still have all the rights and responsibilities of a spouse.

Some common alternative marriage frameworks include:

  • Parenting marriage: Turning a romantic relationship into a platonic one, while continuing to live and parent together
  • Living apart, together: Maintaining two households, allowing each spouse to retreat to their own space when needed
  • Open marriage: Finding people outside the marriage who can meet physical and emotional needs that your spouse no longer fulfills

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