The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

Married couples who are experiencing relationship difficulties sometimes choose legal separation or divorce. There are profound differences between these two options that you should understand. A family lawyer, like a family lawyer in Bloomington, IL, can help you understand your options.

A legal separation is sometimes chosen because there is hope of reconciling, or because one party or the other objects to divorce on religious grounds. Courts in some states may require separation for a period of time before granting a no-fault divorce.

In a Legal Separation, You Are Still Married

Since a legal separation is not a divorce, neither party has a right to remarry. The parties remain next-of-kin to each other and would make medical decisions for each other were such decisions required. In the event that one party or the other dies, matters of inheritance are handled as if the parties were still married because legally, they still are.

Debts and other liabilities are not separated by a legal separation; each party is still potentially liable for the debts of the other. One party can still maintain health care benefits on behalf of the other when they are only separated.

A Legal Separation May Require Negotiation of Separation Maintenance

Your family lawyer can help you with certain legal and financial negotiations that you must complete as part of a legal separation. Separation maintenance provides support for the spouse who is lower income or is moving out of the shared housing. Like alimony, it provides for one party to pay part or all of the other’s living expenses. Your family lawyer can help you negotiate this with your spouse.

The Court Can Determine Child Support and Visitation Rights During a Legal Separation

Since the parties will be living separately, child support and visitation rights must be negotiated if there are children involved. The couple can agree on the terms, but if they cannot resolve any disagreements, the court will decide these matters.

The Court Can Determine Property Rights During a Legal Separation

While the two parties do not formally divide the property during a legal separation as they would during a divorce, they will decide on who uses what property during a legal separation or how it can be disposed of. In some cases the court determines property division based on the perception that one or both parties actually intends to end the marriage.

Whether or not a divorce is preceded by a legal separation, a divorce ends the marriage relationship with finality. A divorce proceeding leaves both parties free to remarry, and the debts and property of both are completely separated. Ask a family lawyer about the difference in the two options.

Thanks to Pioletti Pioletti & Nichols for their insight into the difference between legal separation and divorce.