What Is The Difference Between A Legal Separation and a Divorce?

Divorce and legal separation are similar in that they create space between you and your spouse and will create or continue division. This means that you are no longer living together and your finances are separate. Other aspects such as child support, child custody, spousal support, and dividing your marital assets and debts are ordered by the court. These are the only similarities between the two so it is important to know the different aspects each one has.

What is a Divorce?

A divorce means that your marriage has formally and legally ended. You are free to remarry or live as a single person.

What is a Legal Separation?

In a legal separation, you are still married to the other person. You must continue marking yourself as married on forms and you cannot marry another person.

Why Would Someone Get a Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?

People pursue legal separation instead of divorce for several reasons.

One reason is because the couple desires to live apart from one another and live their own lives, but still want to maintain some form of relationship with the other person instead of going all the way to divorce. Becoming legally separated also ensures that you will receive government benefits such as pension or Social Security payments. 

A couple might also choose to legally separate in order to work on resolving their issues in hopes of repairing their marriage. They may feel that the best way to achieve this is by living separately for a while. Depending on the relationship, this could be what is needed to repair the marriage. If this is the case, then a legal separation would be a good choice because legal separations are easily reversible in the court, but full divorces are not. 

Many split couples may also pursue legal separations because it is easier on their children. The word ‘separated’ does not sound nearly as devastating as the word ‘divorced.’

Another reason for a separation, however, is as a means to divorce. Depending on the state in which you live, it may be required for you to be legally separated from your spouse for some time before you can get a formal divorce. In other states, legal separation is actually a legal grounds for getting a divorce. In this case, issues are resolved in the separation agreement before it converts into a divorce decree later. 

Related: Why Does The Divorce Process Take So Long?

What is the Separation Process?

Many couples may start out with a trial separation. A trial separation is an informal separation where you live apart from your spouse to determine if a legal separation or an official divorce is indeed what you want. During a trial separation, the court does not need to be involved.

If you and your spouse decide that you would like a legal separation, then the court would formally declare that you and your spouse are now separated as a couple. Legal separations can be acquired in most states by submitting a separation agreement much like you would if you were getting a divorce. 


In summary, the difference between the two is that a divorce effectively ends your marriage, but a separation does not. A separation can be a stepping stone to divorce or it can be a means to heal your marriage.


Your Divorce Mapp Workbook - Legal Seperation and Divorce

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