It’s an idyllic story that’s played out again and again in books and movies. Two individuals meet, fall in love and live happily ever after. In reality, however, making a marriage work is a lot more difficult and takes more than just love. As individuals age, life experiences and goals take shape and change. In cases where a married couple isn’t able to weather these changes or simply grows apart, divorce may be imminent.

Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and his wife Sara Gooding recently announced their plans to legally separate. The couple, who met in high school, married in 1994. While Cuba Gooding, Jr. recently gushed about his wife and remarked how he’s “fallen more in love” with her every year, Sara Gooding filed for a legal separation from the 46-year-old actor earlier this month.

Throughout the course of the couple’s 20-year marriage, they became parents to three children who are now ages 19, 17 and 8. Upon filing for legal separation, Sara Gooding requested the couple share joint custody of their two youngest children who are both still minors.

The couple’s decision to legally separate affords each party the space and time needed to sort out important matters prior to a divorce being finalized. As part of the legal separation process, both spouses work to come to an agreement on issues related to child custody, alimony and the division of assets and property. Both parties sign a contract related to the agreed upon terms that, if not followed, is typically enforceable in court.

A legal separation can help spouses who plan to divorce sort out issues prior to a divorce actually being finalized. When successful, the process allows spouses a sense of control and certainly and helps alleviate much of the stress and anxiety experienced before a divorce settlement is finalized.

Source: E Online, ” NEWS/ Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Wife Files for Legal Separation After 20 Years of Marriage,” Alyssa Toomey, April 23, 2014 The Maryland State Bar Association, Inc., “Divorce and Separation,” 2014