Legal separation is essentially the same as a dissolution of marriage except without the actual termination of the marriage. During a legal separation, all assets and debts are divided, spousal support (alimony) is determined, legal decision-making (custody) and parenting time (visitation) are resolved, and child support is calculated.
What’s the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?
The primary difference is that at the conclusion of a legal separation, the parties are still legally married. Legal separations are uncommon. Some reasons people seek a legal separation rather than a divorce include to allow one spouse to remain covered by health insurance and religious reasons.
If a party files for legal separation, the matter may be converted to a dissolution of marriage (divorce) at any time during the proceedings.
Once a Decree of Legal Separation has been entered, a dissolution of marriage (divorce) can be obtained by filing and serving a new Petition for Dissolution under the same case number and referencing the terms of the legal separation.
In terms of the legal work involved, there is little difference between the two. Most, if not all, of the issues involved in a divorce (child custody, support, division of assets and laibilities, etc.) also must be resolved in a legal separation. But legal separation does not end a marriage-it merely ends the existence of a couple’s community property status. As a result, after a legal separation is entered, spouses are, in fact, still married to one another. Legal separation can be a good option for couples if they are unsure they want the permanency of a divorce or if they prefer not to divorce for financial or religious reasons.
The purpose of a separation agreement is to “promote amicable settlement of disputes between parties to a marriage attendant on their separation or the dissolution of their marriage.” Spouses who wish to divorce may enter into a written separation agreement containing provisions for disposition of their marital property and debts. Divorces often involves marriages of long duration with considerable marital assets. In these complex situations when parties are able to quickly reach agreement, they may enter a written separation agreement which is then submitted to the court and incorporated into their final decree of dissolution.