Difference between Legal Separation and Divorce (US Law)

While most people know that a legal separation is different from a divorce, many may not understand all the ways in which it’s different. While a divorce ends a marriage, a legal separation does not. Instead, a legal separation allows the couple to remain married while living separately. During a legal separation, a court order outlines each spouse’s rights and responsibilities.

Just like with divorce, certain issues can be addressed in a legal separation, including:

  • Division of assets
  • Division of debt
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Visitation schedules
  • Spousal support

One reason why people opt for a legal separation is because their assets can be legally protected until the time of the divorce. Divorces aren’t fast, the first step is filing for divorce and the process can be dragged out for a long time. In the meantime, a legal separation document can provide security for both spouses.

Another reason why legal separations are beneficial is because they can provide the layout for the divorce. For example, the same child custody agreement that was followed during a legal separation may be adhered to after a divorce. Legal separations can sometimes serve as the trial period for the couple to see how they handle certain responsibilities. Often, the judge feels that if both parties were happy with the decisions of the legal separation, there should be no problem with the same guidelines for the divorce.

It’s very important to decide on legal separation guidelines that you’re happy with. Looking at a legal separation as a short-term decision isn’t accurate. Since the legal separation is often adhered to for the divorce, you could be stuck with your decisions for a very long time.

One huge benefit to legally separating instead of divorcing is that if the couple wants to work on their marriage, they can do so while living separately but without going through the hassle of divorce. That way, if the couple makes amends, they won’t have to get remarried. Instead, they can simply end their legal separation and begin living together again as a normal married couple.

Another benefit to filing for a legal separation instead of a divorce is that both spouses can still retain their health insurance. Divorce brings health coverage to an end for the married spouse. With a legal separation, the husband or wife can still care for their family even during the time apart.

This article was contributed by the Cantor Law Group of Phoenix, AZ. The Cantor Law Group handles all aspects of family law including adoption, divorce, child custody, and support among other areas.