The Difference Between A Legal Separation And A Divorce

Posted on: 13 January 2015


If you're interested in modifying or ending your marriage, there are two approaches you can take. You can get a legal separation or a divorce. A trial separation where the couple lives apart for some length of time does not require the involvement of the court system. A legal separation is an official, court mandated division of all marital properties (the primary objective). This legal separation is a more formal and significant step than a trial separation. If you choose to get a divorce instead, you will go through a legal process that is quite similar to a legal separation, except that your marriage will be officially dissolved. While the division of property will also take place in a divorce, the primary objective of a divorce is to end the marriage. Below are some of the differences between legal separation and divorce.


Although legal separation sometimes leads (ultimately) to a divorce, it's not actually a requirement that all divorces carry out a legal separation first. And some legal separations don't proceed on to a divorce. It's also important to keep in mind that divorce (also known as dissolution) is the only method by which one can formally end a marriage (along with all the rights and responsibilities that normally pertain to marriage). While on the surface, legal separation appears to have largely the same results as a divorce, the marriage is not actually dissolved. This means that some marital rights and privileges are still in place.


As pointed out above, a divorce is intended to result in a full and complete termination of a marital relationship. As a part of this, property must be divided, child custody arrangements must be worked out, debts must be settled and the amount of alimony (if any) must be determined. While for the most part, the couple is allowed to come to virtually any arrangement they like to deal with the above issues, the court can step in and make its own decisions if an agreement is not arrived at. A legal separation also involves attorneys, mediators or possible arbitration to arrive at a settlement. The objective of legal separation is to arrive at an equitable way for the couple to divide their mutually held property.


Both legal separation and divorce start with a petition being filed by one of the spouses. This petition lays out the terms that the petitioner wants the court to enforce. The other spouse is given the opportunity to respond to the petition, and can either contest these terms or accept them as they are. When a final agreement on the terms is arrived at, the formal settlement agreement is delivered to the court. The court will issue an order and the separation or divorce will become official. A divorce can be no-fault, or it could be one in which blame is laid on one of the two individuals, such as for prolonged incarceration or abusive and violent behavior.

For more information, contact Wise Scheible Barkauskas or a similar firm.