What Are the Differences Between Divorce and Legal Separation?

Although many people use the terms “divorce” and “legal separation” interchangeably, they are two different legal processes. The main difference is that with a legal separation, two people remain legally married. A divorce undoes a marriage. There are some cases where it will work in a couple’s favor to legally separate, but it will depend on each individual case.

Legal Separation

Many couples want to separate before completely nullifying the marriage. This gives both people time to decide whether they truly want to go through with a divorce. There are some additional advantages to be gained.

For example, social security rights accrue to an ex-spouse after 10 years of marriage. Also, members of the military may wish to pursue a legal separation first until they have been with their spouses for at least 10 years. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, certain assets are divided more favorably if the couple remains together for a minimum of 10 years.

Using a Legal Separation Agreement for a Divorce

Prior to a legal separation, the spouses still need to determine certain matters, including division of property, allocation of debts, and any child and spousal support matters. And, if the couple share children, then they still need to figure out a child custody arrangement because the parents will live apart.

Down the line, if the couple wishes to pursue a divorce in earnest, then they can use their pre-existing legal separation agreement. This makes the actual divorce process go much more smoothly. However, if either parent has an objection to any part of the arrangement, then those problems can be remedied during the divorce.

If you are unsure which option is ideal for your marriage, then make sure to speak with a divorce mediator or attorney or to review your options.