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Legal Separation vs. Divorce

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What are Some Tips When Considering Legal Separation vs. Divorce?

Determining the differences with legal separation vs. divorce can make difficult situations easier to deal with.  In general, legal separation is very similar to divorce, except that the couple retains their status as legally married. 

That is, a couple that has filed for legal separation can often obtain court orders for issues like child custody/visitation, and support.  In many cases, a legal separation order or settlement agreement is later used in court during a subsequent divorce proceeding.  In such cases, the date of separation may be a factor when determining certain legal issues like the distribution of property. 

In many other instances the legal separation doesn’t lead to divorce, especially where the couple has fully reconciled their differences.

How are Legal Separation and Divorce Related?

Legal separation and divorce can often give rise to similar issues.   For example, in both legal separation and divorce, the following typically occur:

  • The couple must go through their property to determine how it will be divided between the two of them
  • They may need to file orders covering spousal support (alimony)
  • If children are involved, the couple may need to make arrangements for a suitable custody and visitation arrangement

Also, legal separation and divorce may also have similar consequences with regards to each person’s property.  Property distribution in a separation case usually follows state divorce guidelines.  This is especially true if the couple has set up joint accounts, or if they have been operating a business together.

How are Legal Separation and Divorce Different?

In many respects, legal separation can be very different from divorce.  In a legal separation, one spouse is often allowed to claim benefits from the other party, since they are still legally married.  This can include things like military-related benefits, methods for tax filing, and some employment-related claims.

Also, legal separation is not final, and the couple can often file to have the separation order lifted if they decide to get back together with one another. 

Generally speaking, legal separation tends to be a less cost-intensive arrangement, since the couple can still claimed marriage benefits with the state.  However, you should not make important relational decisions based solely on financial considerations. 

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Questions Regarding Legal Separation vs. Divorce?

Legal separation and divorce laws can be very different from state to state.  You may wish to hire a qualified family lawyer if you have questions about legal separation vs. divorce.  Your attorney can help you understand the difference between the two, and how each arrangement might affect your particular situation.  In addition, your attorney can help you with court proceedings if you need to file a legal claim with the court.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-17-2018 08:19 PM PDT

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