Every marriage is unique.

There isn’t any one right or wrong way to end a marriage.

When you decide it’s time to split, you have quite a few options at your disposal.

Divorce and separation are pretty similar in some respects and remarkably different in others.

Once you analyze your personal situation, you can meet with a qualified attorney to discuss which route would work best to meet your goals.

Let’s break down the similarities and differences regarding legal separation vs. divorce so you can understand how they might apply to your personal case.

What is the difference between legal separation vs. divorce?

Divorce vs. separation: what is the difference and how do you know which one is right for you?

The main difference is that during a separation, you’re still married to your partner. This means that neither of you may remarry.

When it comes to divorce, only one spouse needs to file paperwork. A separation, on the other hand, requires both parties’ consent.

During a legal separation you’ll still need to negotiate all the same financial responsibilities as you would during a divorce.

Why people choose separation vs. divorce

  • They aren’t quite ready to officially end the marriage and may be able to reconcile differences in the future.
  • The marriage may not be eligible for a divorce.
  • To retain health care, social security, insurance, or other benefits that accompany a marriage.
  • To keep tax benefits granted to married couples.
  • Negotiating a separation can be less stressful than negotiating a divorce.

Factors that can complicate a separation

Divorce or separation is never simple or easy, but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated.

Everything you’ve accumulated during your marriage is technically shared property. This all needs to be addressed and negotiated during a separation. Certain factors can make the process a little more complex.

  • If you have children, you’ll need to negotiate custody and child support agreements.
  • You’ve been married for a long time and have acquired substantial assets together.
  • You own a business.
  • If one party is financially dependent on the other, you’ll need to negotiate spousal support.

Types of separation

There isn’t any one-size-fits-all solution to separation. You’ll need to look over your situation and discuss your options with a qualified attorney.

It’s also important to remember that the laws regarding separation can vary drastically by state.

Trial separation

You may opt for a trial separation if you and your partner simply need a break. Trial separations usually don’t involve detailed negotiations. In many cases, you may still share family financial responsibilities and joint bank accounts – you’ll just live separately.

This is a good option if you think you and your spouse may be able to get back together in the future.

Permanent separation

During a permanent separation, you’ll be responsible for all of your own assets and debts after the separation is finalized. Couples who choose a permanent separation typically intend on divorcing at some point down the road.

In this circumstance, dates are very important. If your spouse incurs debt or receives a bonus from work, you are not entitled to or responsible for these things after the separation. However, if you and your spouse reconcile during the separation – even very briefly – this can change the situation.

Legal separation

Many couples live happily in a legal separation for many years. During this type of separation, you aren’t married but you aren’t divorced either. Couples opting for legal separation usually don’t intend on finalizing a divorce.

A legal separation still requires negotiations for shared property and child custody. Many insurance companies consider a legal separation grounds for terminating coverage. It’s important to read your plan’s fine print and discuss your situation with an attorney.

Why choose divorce over separation?

divorce separationA separation may be less complicated and stressful for many couples. In some situations, however, it may be best to head straight for divorce.

  • Your plan on remarrying or at least leaving the option open to remarry.
  • You don’t see a financial benefit to staying married.
  • You plan on divorcing in the future and don’t want to go through the legal process twice.
  • Your state does not allow for legal separation.

Types of divorce

During a marriage, all property and assets you accumulate are considered shared property. During your divorce or separation, you’ll need to negotiate the terms. If you and your spouse communicate fairly well, this can streamline the process because you’ll be able to utilize methods outside the courtroom.

Uncontested divorce

You and your partner negotiate and reach an agreement peacefully – on your own terms.


If spouses disagree on minor issues, a neutral third-party called an arbitrator looks over the case and makes a ruling.


Mediation is similar to arbitration. It’s another way to reconcile minor details. In this situation, however, a mediator facilitates communication between you and your spouse to reach an agreement – they don’t provide a final verdict.

Summary dissolution

No divorce is simple, but this type is definitely the simplest. If your marriage was relatively short-lived and you haven’t acquired substantial assets, you may qualify for a summary dissolution.

Collaborative divorce

During a collaborative divorce, your attorneys play a more hands-on role to help negotiate an agreement.

Contested divorce

If you and your spouse can’t seem to work out an agreement, you may find yourself in a contested divorce where a judge will look over your case and make a final ruling.

Meet with a qualified attorney to discuss your options

Whether you’re thinking of a divorce or separation, it’s important to meet with a qualified attorney to understand your case and discuss your options.

Many states do not allow separated couples to file joint tax returns or claim insurance benefits. An attorney can help educate you on all the details and find a solution that meets your goals.

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