The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

August 12, 2014

The end of a marriage is a difficult time.  Some couples who are considering divorce, first file for legal separation as a trial run.  Divorce proceedings legally dissolve the marriage.  Legal separation allows the parties to lead separate lives but remain married.

A couple is legally separated when their lifestyles do not intersect, but they remain legally married.  The parties usually receive a court order which can include many of the issues included in a divorce – property division, alimony, custody of minor children, and child support.  Many couples enter into a separation agreement to decide all of these issues themselves, and the court simply enters the order.

Opting for legal separation is common for couples who want to attend counseling to try to reconcile their relationship.  However, some couples choose legal separation without any intent of working it out, because they wish to remain married for religious reasons.

In some cases, it may make financial sense to remain married.  For example, maintaining a ten year marriage may allow couples to take advantage of social security benefits, or military pensions.  However, with legal separation, since you are still married, you cannot enter into another marriage or domestic partnership.

Knowing the difference makes you well informed to make the right decision.


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