If you’re wondering whether or not it’s in your best interest to file for divorce, a number of questions are already running through your mind. It happens to everyone going through the same thing, and the questions are always the same. Should you go through with it, or will time heal the issues between you? Okay, time hasn’t done anything to heal, so maybe distance is the best option. Time apart isn’t just time apart, though, and it’s important you understand that. What is the difference between legal separation and divorce, and which is best for you?

The first thing you need to remember should be obvious, but sometimes people forget: when you’re separated, you’re still married. When you’re separated, therefore, you should still behave as you would when you’re married. If you do indeed decide to get divorced at some point down the road, then the actions you take during your legal separation could affect the divorce proceedings. In other words, be extremely careful.

You might choose to separate for a number of reasons, but the consequences can sometimes creep up on those who do. Sometimes, the benefits of your marriage will dry up, depending on the type of benefit and how long you’ve been apart from your spouse. If you currently enjoy the fruits of a spouse’s labor–i.e. Social security income, health insurance, dental, or any other benefits–then you should know that you often don’t have the legal right to continue to use those benefits during a separation.

Your specific situation matters. The job you have and the benefits provided can affect the outcome, and might help determine whether or not you would be better off following through with divorce or simply staying separated. A qualified legal professional specializing in divorce is an absolute necessity, even if you don’t intend on getting a divorce. A divorce attorney can help underline the fine print you might otherwise forget to read, and they can give you detailed instructions on how best to proceed–and how to do so carefully–in either case.

There are a number of reasons you might continue to fulfill your marriage vows, even during a legal separation. Perhaps you and your spouse are devoutly religious and do not believe in divorce as a means to solve the differences between you. Perhaps you are dependent on the benefits of the other, or you require the tax benefit provided by marriage. Maybe you have other extraneous circumstances in your life that preempt the stress of getting a divorce, and you’re just not ready to go down that road. No matter what, legal counsel will help you determine the best course of action for you and your future.