What Is The Difference Between Legal Separation And Divorce?

Sep. 28, 2017 5:58 AM ET
Russ Thornton profile picture
Russ Thornton

The dissolution of a marriage can be a difficult and time consuming process. There are many legal and ethical considerations that must be handled. Legally speaking, there are two options when a married couple decides that they can no longer live together - a legal separation or a divorce.

When you're talking to most people, they use the terms "separated" and "divorced" interchangeably, but these two things are not the same. In fact, they are pretty different and it's important that you understand the distinctions between them.

There are several key differences between the two options. Before you decide on any course of action it is important that you check the laws in your state of residence as family law varies from state to state. Some states do not even allow for a legal separation, although the two spouses can still draw up a legally binding separation agreement on their own, while other states require a legal separation of at least one year before a divorce can be filed for.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is a contract drawn up by the courts that allows both parties in a marriage to live separately while still maintaining the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Often it is considered a trial separation, allowing both spouses some room to step away from the anger and fighting of the relationship and cool down before deciding whether they want to remain married or not.

The details of a separation may vary, but here are the basics:

  • Spouses agree to live separately but remain married.
  • A court order is drawn up defining each parties' rights and responsibilities, including child custody and if relevant, child and/or spousal support.
  • May keep joint property and bank accounts and each spouse may claim a legal right to assets acquired after the

This article was written by

Russ Thornton profile picture
I’m Russ Thornton, founder of Wealthcare For Women, and I've been a financial advisor for over 28 years. As a young man in college, I watched my mother go through a divorce and struggle with her money and well-being. She really needed someone in her corner to help her gain the comfort and clarity around her money to live a better life. That's why my practice helps women like her do just that. You don't have to be worried and concerned about your money anymore. Let's start creating your amazing life.

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