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A relationship can end in two ways – divorce or legal separation. Both have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, making it important to understand their differences before proceeding with either. At the same time, both involve physical separation from your spouse and division of assets. But the process and results of each are very different.

In this article, we’ll look at the differences between legal separation and divorce. We’ll also take a closer look at the legality of each option, their financial implications, and what outcomes you can expect from either path. 

By the end of our discussion, you’ll have a better understanding of the differences between legal separation and divorce, so you can decide which is right for you.

What are legal separation and divorce? 

Let’s begin by looking at the definition of each term.

Legal separation

Legal separation sometimes referred to as “separate maintenance,” is a court order that recognizes a couple’s decision to live apart without seeking a divorce. It is a formal agreement between two spouses that outlines the terms and conditions of their relationship, such as child custody and support, property division, spousal support, etc.

The agreement is binding in civil court and will remain in effect until both parties agree to change or dissolve it. Legal separation does not legally terminate the marriage so neither party can remarry.


Divorce (or dissolution of marriage) is a legal process that officially ends a marriage. It requires both parties to file with the court and usually requires one party to prove grounds for divorce, such as adultery, abandonment, or abuse. 

Divorce grants each spouse an independent status in society and establishes financial support obligations. It also terminates any rights to spousal support that were previously established through a legal separation agreement or court order.

The legality of Legal Separation vs Divorce 

The legality and requirements for legal separation and divorce will vary from state to state. In many states, a legal separation does not require both parties to file with the court; however, it is still a good idea to consult an attorney before proceeding with either option.

Divorce typically requires both parties to agree on the terms of the split and to file with the court. In some states, one party may be able to file for divorce even if the other party does not consent. In addition, the time needed to obtain a divorce may vary depending on the state or county where you live.

Benefits and drawbacks of legal separation vs divorce

Legal separation benefits couples who do not want to end their marriage but still need to live apart. It allows couples to remain married while avoiding the financial and emotional consequences of a divorce.

However, it is important to remember that legal separation does not end the marriage, and both parties are still bound by the terms of their agreement; this can make it difficult for either party to remarry or move on from the relationship. Additionally, some couples may find that legal separation does not give them the closure they need to move on.

Divorce can be difficult, but it offers the freedom to remarry or move on from a relationship in an official capacity. It also provides each party with its own independent status and financial support obligations. However, divorce can have significant emotional and financial implications for both parties and be a long and expensive process.

Financial Implications Between Legal Separation and Divorce 

Now that we have discussed the legality and benefits of each let’s look at the financial implications between legal separation and divorce.

How assets and debts are divided in each case?

The division of assets and debts in a legal separation will depend on the agreement between the parties. In some cases, assets may be divided evenly; however, this is not always the case. In addition, each party is still responsible for paying off any joint debts incurred while married.

Divorce, however, will require a court to divide assets and debts between both parties. This can be done via mediation or, in more complicated cases, through a trial. Assets and debts are typically divided equitably (not necessarily equally) based on each party’s contribution to the marriage.

Tax implications of a legal separation vs. divorce

The tax implications of a legal separation vs. divorce will depend on the laws in your specific state. Generally, legally separated couples will be able to file taxes separately. Still, they may be unable to take advantage of certain deductions or credits that married couples can claim.

Divorced couples are typically required to file their taxes separately, but they can still benefit from certain deductions and credits. Additionally, any alimony payments made may be tax deductible for the paying spouse and taxable income for the recipient.

Outcomes of Legal Separation Versus Divorce 

When exploring the differences between legal separation and divorce, it is important to consider the potential outcomes of each.

Child custody and support considerations for the two scenarios

Legal separation does not alter the parental rights of either party; however, it can still be used to determine a parenting plan and child support obligations. Sometimes, couples resolve these issues outside court or through a collaborative process.

Divorce, on the other hand, can modify child custody arrangements and support orders by court order; it also makes any previous agreements legally binding. This means that a court order must be followed, and any changes to the agreement require court approval.

Impact on alimony and health insurance in each situation

The impact of the legal separation vs. divorce on alimony payments, if applicable, will vary depending on the laws in your state. In some states, alimony can still be awarded during a legal separation; however, this is not always the case.

Divorce will typically terminate any previously established alimony agreements. However, it can also be used to create a new agreement or modify an existing one. Additionally, divorced couples may be able to use their spouse’s health insurance until they are eligible for Medicare, depending on their state’s laws.


Legal separation and divorce are both important legal decisions to make. Whether you choose one or the other can depend on your overall goals and objectives, as well as any financial or personal considerations that come into play. Ultimately, it is up to you and your partner if a separation or divorce is the right choice for your situation.

It is best to discuss the pros and cons of both options with a qualified attorney before making any decisions. By having an experienced professional guide the process, you can ensure that your rights and interests are protected throughout either process.

Farbood Majd Esq.

Family Law & Divorce Attorney in Beverly Hills

Providing service in English and Farsi

Address: 8383 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 646, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Phone: 310.956.4600 | Fax: 310.878.8989

Email: [email protected]