What’s the difference between a divorce and a legal separation? 4

Legal Differences Between Dissolving a Marriage, and Merely Separating

When the marriage appears to be failing, many couples choose to separate first while others seek a divorce right away. What’s the difference?

The most distinct difference between separation and divorce is that a divorce legally and permanently terminates the marriage. Once the divorce is final (and subject to any waiting periods establish by the laws of your state), both parties are free to remarry someone else without any repercussions.

A separation, on the other hand, does not terminate the marriage and does not give the parties the right to remarry without first getting a divorce.

Other aspects of the split – such as child support, property division, custody issues and alimony can all be addressed through a legal separation just as they would be in a divorce and in many states, the legal separation agreement can later be converted to a divorce at the request of one or both of the parties.

So, what’s the point of getting a legal separation?

While there are a few different types of separation, a legal separation will protect your interests as well as that of your spouse while the two of you decide how to proceed as the separation is documented with a separation agreement or court order. Often couples find a way to work things out and choose to reconcile. With a legal separation, there would be no need to remarry as the marriage was never terminated. For some people, their religious or cultural beliefs prohibit them from divorcing. A legal separation would give them all of the legal protections of a divorce, without the divorce.

And in the event that you do later decide divorce is the right choice, that decision is likely made with a clearer state of mind as you’ve allowed some time for the emotions to settle. In fact, many states require that couples separate first before granting a divorce to be sure that the divorce is really what they want and not just a decision made in the heat of the moment.

If you would like to learn more about legal separation, you may be interested in this book about “controlled separation” as well as this book about separation management techniques.


  • Aaron

    Really good and informative post. This adds a lot to our knowledge. Thanks for sharing this info.

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  • Williams Walt

    I am a law student and I was really looking for such info. This is gonna help me a lot. Thanks for sharing this info.

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  • My husband and I are not working out. He has “broken up” with me minus the divorce. Right now I am contemplating getting a legal separation since i don’t believe in divorces. Is there any way i can obtain it without having to pay so much out of pocket money to get it? I know our legal separation wont cause a nasty fight between us since we have already divided our assets.

  • Cecilia

    My parents have been seperated for more than 12 years but never legally seperated or divorced through any California courts and my father wants a divorce but we suspect my mother will not agree with the divorce. What can we do?