When a married couple finds themselves no longer compatible with each other, many consider divorce. However, another option is available: legal separation. Learn how legal separation and divorce are similar to and different from each other.

How Are Legal Separation and Divorce Similar?

These two processes have many aspects that are alike in what they accomplish and how they proceed. Legal separation and divorce both do the following things.

Physical Separation

Spouses usually need to no longer live together in the same house. While some legal separation agreements recognize separated living areas in the same home, physical separation often involves one spouse moving out of the home altogether. Additionally, both spouses usually need to declare their intention to live separately as a result of irreconcilable differences.

Specific Issues

Like divorce, a legal separation requires spouses to resolve specific issues. These issues are the same issues people often hash out with divorce. Spouses often need to discuss, agree on, and write down their intentions for issues such as child custody, child support, division of property, spousal support, and division of debt. Otherwise, like divorce, a court often decides how to resolve the issues.

Similar Process

Like the divorce process, a full legal separation often requires one spouse to file a petition, provide a summons to the other spouse, have a written arrangement to present in court, go to court to handle specific issues if the two spouses cannot agree, and abide by specific court orders. Like divorce, these court orders might be modifiable or dismissible if circumstances change.

Legally Binding

Some people mistake legal separation for an informal arrangement, such as a trial separation. However, as legal separation still requires a legal process like divorce, then both options are legally binding.

How Are Legal Separation and Divorce Different?

While similar in many ways, legal separation and divorce do have different outcomes. Discover how legal separation differs from divorce.

Marriage Status

While two spouses with a legal separation agreement might maintain different residences and pay child support or spousal maintenance, they are still technically married. This means that they still have a legal relationship with each other in some aspects, unlike divorce, which dissolves all ties between a couple.

Specific Benefits

Since a couple who went through legal separation still are married, they may still be eligible for a spouse’s benefits, inheritance, or insurance. For example, couples who are legally separated may still benefit from:

  • Medical insurance policies: Both spouses can sometimes have the same policy together. This might happen if a spouse has a serious medical condition.
  • Government benefits: Couples who stay married for ten years or more, legally separated or not, are often eligible for a spouse’s Social Security benefits.
  • Inheritance rights: A legally separated spouse who lives on after one spouse dies might still inherit their spouse’s property. This is something that spouses can address in future estate planning.

All of these are specific issues that couples should consider and decide on while drafting a legal separation agreement. A family law attorney can help legally separating spouses understand their rights and options.

What Should You Do Next?

Whether you and your spouse have considered or decided on divorce or legal separation, the next step is to speak to an experienced and knowledgeable family lawyer. At Campbell Barnett PLLC, we help couples proceed through the divorce or legal separation process successfully. If you want to learn more about each option and which one might be best for your circumstances, please contact us today. We look forward to speaking with and helping you.