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What is the Difference between Separation and Divorce?


Separation and divorce have different meanings in the legal system when it comes to splitting up properties and dividing retirement assets. For individuals that have basically the same meaning, two people who were married are no longer living together. There are basically three ways that are recognized by the courts to change one’s marital status, annulment, separation or divorce. Each of these concepts has different meanings and will have different affects on property and asset distributions. States that allow civil unions and domestic partnerships also allow for separations and divorces. When considering a separation or divorce it is advisable to consult with an attorney and check local laws to see how this decision will affect you and your assets.

Terms of separation

 A legal separation does not mean the same thing as a divorce. Divorce means that the marriage has come to an end while separation means that two people will remain married but will live separately. The procedure for obtaining a legal separation is not totally different from the procedure to obtain a divorce. Both parties must agree on major issues such as custody of children and relevant child support, as well as asset and debt division. It is very important to come to an agreement that works for both parties on these matters. If a divorce is later pursued it is very likely that a judge will continue many if not all of the same terms from the separation into the divorce.

Why separate instead of getting a divorce?

 Separation and divorce are very similar in terms of practical application. In both cases assets and properties will be divided and two parties will begin leading separate lives. However, divorce is more final than separation. Couples choosing separation will spend some time apart and figure out if divorce is what they really want. In separation, benefits afforded to married couples such as insurance can be continued where they would end with divorce. Many religious couples choose separation as a way to end their lives together when their religions don’t allow for divorce as well. Military couples may still enjoy benefits for up to 10 years following separation and are eligible for some social security benefits after that.

How is separation different from divorce?

The main difference between divorce and separation is that divorce is final. Once divorced, both parties are free to remarry which is not the case with separation. In a divorce a judge rules on issues such as alimony, child custody, and asset distribution much the same way they would in separation. In a separation the two parties may decide that they want to get back together and are free to do so. When divorced, two parties may get back together however it will be considered a new marriage. When two people get divorced instead of a separation they lose all benefits that are given to married people such as tax benefits and family health insurance coverage. Couples choosing to have a separation can still continue to enjoy these benefits.

Divorce is a complicated and painful thing. If this is something you are considering it is wise to speak with a divorce attorney to get some solid legal advice. The rules for divorce change slightly from state to state so it is also wise to check with your local regulations to see what your options are. Many states require a separation for a period of time before a divorce can be granted. Many people will try a separation first anyway as it offers many of the benefits of divorce while still maintaining some of the benefits of marriage. A few states will even require counseling for marriages with children before a divorce will be granted.


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