Till The Law Do Us Part: How Is A Legal Separation Different From Divorce?

Is your relationship on the rocks?

You have two options: seek a legal separation or file for divorce. Well, there’s a third – you can try to work it out with your partner – but the fact that you’re here means you’ve decided it’s really time to go separate ways.

Now, you probably have a general idea of how divorce works – after all, about 40 percent of marriages in the United States in divorce – but not so much about legal separation.

As you weigh your options, we want you to have all the information you need to make the right decision. Keep reading to learn the differences between legal separation and divorce.

What It Means to Be Divorced

Divorce dissolves a marriage.

As a divorcee, you’re not your ex-spouse’s husband or wife anymore. You’re no longer their next of kin, so won’t be responsible for their health and financial decision-making. If you and your partner have joint assets and liabilities, you’ll work out how to share responsibility during the dissolution process.

And if you reconcile with your ex-spouse and want to be united in marriage for a second time, you’ve got to go through the formal marriage process again.

What It Means to Be Legally Separated

Legal separation doesn’t end a marriage.

As a legally separated couple, you’ll live in separate homes, but you’ll remain husband and wife. You cannot enter into another marriage with another person while you’re in marital separation.

Legal separation doesn’t affect your next of kin status. This means if your spouse falls critically ill, you’ll make health decisions on their behalf. And if they pass on, you’re entitled to a share in their estate, unless your legal separation agreement states otherwise or you don’t live in a community property state.

Another difference between legal separation and divorce is the handling of financial debts and other liabilities. Couples in marital separation might still be responsible for each other’s debts.

What about the kids?

Like in divorce, you’ll have to work out a child custody and visitation arrangement. If you cannot agree, the family court will make a decision based on the relevant state laws.

When Seeking Legal Separation Is the Better Option

In truth, nobody enters into a marriage with legal separation or divorce as the end game. We all want to be in it till death do us apart.

However, it’s not uncommon for marriages to go sour. When you’re in such a situation, there are times you might want to opt for legal separation instead of divorce.

For example, if you and your spouse feel your marriage has a chance or you still have romantic feelings for each other, perhaps separation is all you need. It’ll give you time to be away from each other and rediscover yourselves. Sometimes distances re-ignites the sparks of love in a marriage.

Other reasons to seek legal separation include:

  • You’re not yet eligible for divorce under your state’s laws
  • Both of you have no intention of getting into other marriages again
  • You’re bound to enjoy tax benefits if you stay married
  • You don’t advocate for divorce for cultural or moral reasons.

Separation or Divorce: Make Your Choice

When it’s come down to relying on the law, if you’ve had enough of your marriage, you can go for legal separation or file for divorce. We’ve fleshed out what both options mean for your marriage, kids, and assets, so you’re now in a better position to make the right decision.

All the best and be sure to hang out on our blog for more thoughtful insights on a range of issues.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.