You and your spouse have been married for years and you care for each other — but you’re no longer happy together. Just the same, you don’t want to get a divorce. Maybe your religious convictions prohibit it. Maybe your spouse is sick, and the only health insurance they have is under your name.

Legal separation may be the answer.

A legal separation is similar to a divorce in several ways. It allows the court to formally divide your marital assets and debts and establish the terms of any spousal support that should be paid. If you have minor children, the court can also establish a formal custody and visitation order.

The biggest difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that, with a separation, your marriage is still valid. While you are apart from your spouse and living different lives, neither of you will be free to marry anyone else. In addition, since your marriage is still valid, a dependent spouse can usually remain on the other spouse’s insurance plan.

Legal separations come with another benefit: You can typically convert your separation to a divorce at some point in the future, should you decide that a divorce is actually what you prefer. At that point, there’s usually little for the court to do since all of the major issues that have to be settled during a divorce will have been handled during your separation.

If you’re sure that you don’t want to remain in your current situation but you aren’t sure that divorce is a workable solution for whatever reason, it might be time to speak with an experienced attorney who can help you better understand all of your legal options.