Legal Separation vs Divorce: What You Need to Know

Legal Separation vs Divorce: What You Need to Know
Feb 24, 2020
The Harr Law Firm

Couples' hands folded on paperwork beside wedding ringsWhen a marriage is beginning to fall apart, many couples are uncertain of the best way to legally end their relationship. While divorce is the most obvious and well-known answer to such a question, there are actually a few other options. Many married couples may choose to pursue a legal separation instead of immediately filing for a divorce. But what is the difference between the two? What similarities are there? And how do you know which option is the best for your situation? Keep reading to get some insight into these matters.

How Are They Similar?

There are actually many important similarities between a divorce and a legal separation. In both situations, you are creating a legal division between you and your spouse and stating on a legal document that you are choosing to no longer live together. A legal separation will also address many of the same complex issues addressed in a divorce, such as:

  • Child support
  • Child custody and visitation rights
  • Division of marital assets (including business assets)
  • Division of debts
  • Spousal support (called alimony if you get divorced)

Many people are often under the impression that, because they’re not getting divorced, they don’t need an attorney to represent them in a legal separation. However, as you can see from the list above, there are many of the same important legal issues that are included in a separation, and so it’s incredibly important that you have a divorce attorney representing you when negotiating the terms of your separation.

If you fail to do so because it’s “just” a separation, you may find yourself giving up important rights or losing valuable assets when you and your spouse separate. So, if you’re considering getting a legal separation, make sure you don’t sign any agreements without going over the paperwork with an attorney. If you’re unhappy with the terms outline in your separation agreement, we can help you to negotiate more favorable terms before you sign.

How Are They Different?

So, if a legal separation includes so many of the same matters addressed in a divorce, then how is it different from a divorce? Really, there’s only one difference between a divorce and legal separation, but it’s a very large one. When you get a divorce, your marriage is legally ended; in a separation, however, you still remain legally married.

Even though you and your spouse are living apart, you’ve divided your assets, and you’ve agreed on matters of support and custody, you’re still a married couple. You still must mark that you’re married on any relevant forms, you cannot get remarried, and you still have the right to inherit from each other unless otherwise specified in your will. Any child born to a married woman is also legally considered to be her husband’s unless it is proven otherwise.

Which Option Is Right for You?

If you feel that your marriage is coming to an end, it’s important to consider whether a divorce or a legal separation is the best option for you. There is no right or wrong answer—only what works best for you and your spouse.

If you and your spouse are having troubles and you both agree you need your distance, but you don’t know that you’re ready to divorce, a legal separation may be a good idea for you. This will essentially give you the same living situation and legal backing as a divorce but without formally ending your marriage. Or, if you have religious beliefs that prevent you from getting a divorce, you might choose to get a legal separation so that you can continue to hold to those beliefs without continuing to live in a formal marriage with your spouse.

On the other hand, if you know that you’re ready to end your marriage and move on with your life, then a divorce is probably the better option for you. This will legally terminate your marriage so that you can be free to go on with your life as a single person and perhaps pursue other relationships.

The end of a marriage is always a difficult time, as it brings great change into the lives of everyone involved. If you feel that your marriage is at a close, give us a call and schedule a free consultation. We’ll sit down with you and discuss your options to help you to determine whether a legal separation or divorce is the better answer for your unique situation. Give us a call today.

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