What Is the Difference Between a Legal Separation and a Divorce?

A legal separation is different from a divorce because it does not put a legal end to the marriage. Different states have different laws in reference to what technically defines a legal separation. Some states require you to go to court and obtain a court order that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse; while other states simply recognize a couple having a legal separation if they sleep in different rooms and abstains from being intimate. (Be sure to check with your state to determine the laws defining legal separation vs. divorce). Either way, you remain legally married but are choosing to live separate lives. You are still able to address division of assets and/or debts, alimony, child custody and support and visitation schedules by filing for a legal separation that is filed with the county. You are NOT, however, allowed to marry someone else if you are legally separated. You must obtain a divorce to remarry.

Many people choose to remain married but separated for a number of reasons. For some, it is a financial decision – having two separate households in this economy can be especially draining, including paying for separate housing and health insurance. For others, it is simply to be able to see their kids on a regular basis but not having the same marital interaction with their spouse. Other couples decide to remain married for religious reasons. Many couples also just need time apart to decide if divorce is really the direction they want to go. Very often, couples have realized that divorce is not the answer for them and have ultimately reconciled.

A divorce can be defined as a legal action between married people to terminate their marriage agreement before the death of either spouse. The process a couple goes through for a divorce is very similar to issues addressed with a legal separation. If the decision to divorce is made, you both should try to sit down and negotiate responsibilities between yourselves if possible. If this is not an option, a divorce attorney or mediator will become a necessity to divide assets, determine custody arrangements & spousal support. Remember, a well written legal separation agreement can be easy to convert into a divorce settlement agreement so it’s smart to negotiate and agree on a separation agreement that you are willing to live with long term. This will not only save you time, but could ultimately save you a lot of money in attorney’s fees.

Depending on the reasons for the separation, you will need to document daily activities for future reference should the relationship move towards divorce. It is your responsibility to document daily happenings whether you decide to terminate the relationship or not. You and your spouse may choose to repair the relationship, but unfortunately, it could eventually end up in divorce. It can sometimes take years for a divorce or child custody case to be finalized so it is imperative to write in your journal daily. You may also be required to refer back to a certain date or occurrence if you end up back in court after finalization for amendments to your decree.