What is the difference between divorce and legal separation?

When a legal issue arises in your family, the best way you can protect yourself and the ones you love is by consulting a family law attorney who understands how to help you.

If things aren’t working out with your spouse, you may be considering your options for change. Divorce may be the first option to come to mind, but it is not your only option. Depending on your beliefs, situation and goals, a legal separation could also be a reasonable option to consider.

The two options are similar in a variety of ways. The process for getting a divorce or a legal separation both involve allocating parental responsibilities, establishing child support, setting up maintenance for either spouse and dividing property. The main difference between the two options is what you would walk away with at the end.

If you choose divorce, which is sometimes called a dissolution of marriage, you would receive a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage at the end of the process. This would end your marriage.

If you choose to pursue a legal separation instead of a divorce, you would receive a Decree of Legal Separation at the end of the process. Although you would be considered financially separate, you would still be married to your spouse.

Why might someone choose legal separation over divorce?

Living separately while remaining married can be a good choice for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons people choose to pursue legal separation instead of divorce is because they are not sure yet if they want to end their marriage. A legal separation can be a step in that direction without officially ending the marriage. If a couple chooses to end their marriage later, the divorce process may be easier because they have already divided property, allocated parental responsibilities and worked out other related details.

A couple’s personal beliefs are another common reason for choosing a legal separation instead of divorce. Sometimes a couple is no longer happy in their marriage, and they believe they would be happier living apart. However, their religious or moral beliefs do not align with divorce. In those situations, legal separation may offer the spouses a way to live separately without compromising those beliefs.

It can be important to note that your personal situation is unique, and no option will be right for every family’s situation. Only you and your spouse can decide the best path forward from where you are at.

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