Divorce vs. Separation

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What's the Difference Between Separation and Divorce?

The difference between separation and divorce may not seem very obvious to many people.  Most people understand what divorce implies, but not the definition of “separation” can sometimes be confusing.  This is because separation can either be an informal process not involving the court system, or it can become a formal process enforceable by law. 

Moreover, there are such types of separation as temporary separation, permanent separation arrangements, or “legal separation”.  Legal separation is what most people refer to when discussing divorce vs. separation comparisons. 

When to Pursue Separation vs. Divorce

The reasons for pursuing separation versus divorce will of course vary in each situation. Legally speaking, there are important distinctions between the two. 

Generally speaking, only legal separation approved by the court is considered enforceable under law.  Other types of informal separation arrangements may be enforceable if the couple signed a separation agreement.  Legal separation is very similar to divorce, in that the court will analyze similar factors as those in a divorce, such as alimony, property distribution, and child custody/support.

Some couples consider separation in the following situations:

Divorce may be considered for couples in the following situations:

Not all instances of separation end up in divorce.  For example a couple may temporarily choose to live separately for a short time, and then may reunite if they are able to resolve their relationship issues.

Finally, in some states, living separately for a certain period of time is required before the couple can file for some types of divorce (namely, “no-fault” divorce). 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Separation or Divorce?

Understanding whether separation or divorce is right for you can be challenging.  You’ll need to consider your own needs, the needs of your partner, and the interests of any children that may be involved.  Also, you’ll need to have some basic understanding of the laws governing separation and divorce in your area.  You may need to contact a family lawyer if you need legal advice on these matters, and if you will be filing paperwork in court.  Your lawyer can also be present during the hearings to provide you with assistance.

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Last Modified: 05-15-2014 09:50 AM PDT

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