First, Jada. Now, Meryl. 4 Reasons to Separate and Skip the Divorce

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It was the summer of the celebrity divorce: Between June and September, celebs ranging from Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner to Britney Spears and Sam Asghari very publicly called it quits. But just recently this fall, we got news of two celebrity separations, not divorces: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and Meryl Streep and her husband Don Gummer.

In the case of Will and Jada, they’ve been married since 1997—over 25 years. But as revealed in Jada’s memoir, Worthy, the pair have been separated (though not legally divorced) for almost seven years. As Jada described it to Hoda Kotb in her now-famous Today show interview, “Why it fractured—that’s a lot of things. I think by the time we got to 2016, we were just exhausted with trying.”

Not long after, another equally high-profile Hollywood power couple confirmed a similar split: Meryl and Don had been together for over 40 years when they decided to separate—but not divorce—in 2017. The statement for Streep explained it like this: “Don Gummer and Meryl Streep have been separated for more than six years, and while they will always care for each other, they have chosen lives apart.”

Complaints about a lack of transparency certainly surfaced (Jada even went back on Today to defend her choice to stay private about their split), but so did a more practical question: For the average couple considering a split, what are the merits of separating vs. divorcing, especially when finances aren’t an issue? We asked an expert.

About the Expert

Kate Anthony is a certified divorce coach and co-host of the Divorce Survival Guide Podcast. She’s also the author of a new book, The D Word: Making the Ultimate Decision About Your Marriage, available for pre-order now.

1. It’s Less About Finances and More About Division of Assets

First, let’s make one thing clear: There’s a difference between a legal separation and an off-the-books separation. With a legal separation, you’re still officially married, but typically, a court order mandates the rights and obligations of the couple in clear terms. While there’s no confirmation on the type of separation in the case of these two celeb unions, there is a major pro to choosing to separate vs. legally divorce: You don’t have to divvy up the assets. “If your split isn’t contentious and you’re not aiming to re-marry immediately, a separation—legal or not—means you get to maintain access,” Anthony explains. In other words, you get to skirt the minutia of a full-on division. “Look at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who had to bifurcate their divorce because it was going to take a million more years because of the complexity of their property ownership. I think for some people the expense and exhaustion of separating out marital funds, marital properties and more isn’t worth it if you’re able to continue living a collaborative life.”

2. There Are Also Additional Benefits to Staying Legally Married

Again, this may or may not be the case within a celebrity union, but a separation vs. a divorce means that you hold onto more than just financial and property benefits—you maintain medical benefits, too. “Health insurance is a big one. In today’s economy in our country and with our health care system, health plans and the access to each other’s benefit plans can be a big reason to separate instead of divorce,” Anthony says. “If people ask me, ‘Will you ever marry again?’ I say, ‘I don’t know. What’s his health plan?’”

And back to the paperwork: Think about the complexity of seemingly simple tasks like changing your name when you get married. “Certainly in the case of celeb unions, there are a lot of business interests that become entangled,” Anthony describes. “It can be a nightmare to untangle all of that.”

3. A Separation Is a Lot Less Public Than a Divorce

While a legal divorce typically requires an announcement to your friends and family, a separation often comes with different social rules. “As soon as a celebrity gets divorced, everyone knows about it and is all up in their business—perhaps a major benefit of not filing for a legal separation or divorce is that it means people mind their own business,” Anthony says. This applies to non-celebrity divorces, too. “A separation seems to come with a bit more privacy and protection somehow—the lack of finality and formality means less questions are asked.”

4. In Some Cases, It Simply Removes the Stigma of Divorce

Jada spoke about this a bit in her press tour: She and Will promised each other they weren’t going to get a divorce. “While we don’t know the exact reason for their promise to each other, in a lot of cases, divorce carries a stigma that people have internalized, so they won’t give themselves that option, no matter what,” Anthony says. “In fact, some of the reasons behind it can be cultural and that’s OK.”

As long as you continue to have open lines of communication within your partnership, there’s no one prescription for how to end a marriage. “People should consider separation more often for its flexibility alone,” Anthony says. “You still need to delineate things, set boundaries, sort out an unofficial plan for child support, things like that. A mediator can help with all of that or, if you’re up for it, you can make an agreement yourself.”

Bottom line: It’s complicated, but as with all things, there are a range of options.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...