Divorce vs. Legal Separation: What’s the Difference?

a couple discussing divorce vs. legal separation

Like getting married, divorce is also one of the most critical moments in a person’s life. It’s a big step that takes preparation and is affected by several aspects. Before taking any steps here, knowing the difference between divorce vs. legal separation is essential. Both are essentially an end of a marriage but in their respective ways. Make sure you know the main characteristics of each before you make your final decision.

What’s a divorce?

Divorce is the final termination of a marriage. Marriage ends with the legal approval of the court and spouses moving to separate homes. Also, there are a couple of agreements the couple needs to reach. These include children’s custody, property, and other things spouses share. Divorce laws are sometimes changing, so be sure to check the latest updates. You also need to confirm that the marriage can’t be fixed and that divorce is the only way to go. The process can be emotionally challenging and stressful, so professional help can be handy.

What’s a legal separation?

Legal separation is not about ending your marriage altogether. It’s like taking a break or putting it on hold. To start living separately and make it official, you also need to get approval from the court. Again, spouses must agree on their home management, children, and other aspects of their life together.

Divorce vs. legal separation – what’s the difference?

Well, the main difference comes in the last step. While divorce represents a complete end of a marriage, legal separation puts it on hold. The spouses usually get separate homes and agree on taking care of their kids, mutual property, or pets, but they can still get back together without getting married again.

Situations when divorce is the way to go

In certain situations, spouses should skip the separation step and go straight to divorce. This is when divorce is the only way to go, and there’s no chance of recovering the marriage. The examples include:

Problematic marriages where one spouse doesn’t want to have any ties with their husband or wife. These include financial and social ties and connections in terms of property, insurance, etc.
Sometimes, spouses stop loving each other and decide there’s another person that’s better for them. In that case, they might want to remarry, which is impossible without legal divorce.
There’s no financial help from another spouse, nor any financial benefits such as insurance, taxes, social security, etc.


There’s a vast array of problems that can lead to divorce, ranging from lack of communication, love, and trust to more problematic and even dangerous situations such as addiction, abuse, etc. These can make divorce extremely stressful, so trusting a professional to help you out is always recommended. With online therapy available nowadays, you can now have help at your fingertips and discuss such a delicate matter without ever leaving your home.


Signing divorce papers

Reasons to go for a legal separation

Legal separation is a less radical step when couples decide they don’t want to be married anymore. Compared to divorce, this action puts your marriage on hold, so you can still have the chance to change your mind. There are several benefits of choosing legal separation instead of divorce:

You will have more time to reconsider all the factors that led you to this step. Even though couples often choose to live separately after this, they still have the chance to get back together. Legal separation is a good solution if you’re not 100 percent sure you want to end your marriage for good.
Legal separation is excellent if one spouse still needs insurance or other benefits from another spouse’s job;
Tax benefits are one of the reasons why some couples decide to get a legal separation instead of divorce. Filing taxes together is more affordable in certain states. Consumer Opinion recommends contacting a professional for a consultation on tax relief and advice for your particular situation.


Even though legal separation is an excellent solution in certain situations, it can also be a waste of time and money. If there’s no reason to still have ties to your spouse, you’ll only spend more money as you’ll have to pay for both divorce and legal separation. Furthermore, both are stressful sometimes, so it’s important to think about them carefully before deciding whether divorce vs. legal separation is the way to go. Otherwise, you might go through unpleasant situations twice.

Remember: certain states require spouses to get a legal separation before filing for divorce. The court advises living apart for some time first. This way, spouses can experience life apart from each other and have time to decide. However, be sure to inspect the laws of your state first, as this is not the case in most states. If necessary, get legal advice from an expert so you can understand all the details and don’t miss out on any steps.

What’s next?

In every divorce/legal separation process, a lot is going on, and staying focused and calm is challenging. Depending on their situation, spouses might have to organize the move to their new home and deal with the kids, pets, and other vital aspects of their life together. As this can become quite complicated and stressful, it’s crucial to stay organized as much as possible. Try to simplify things by getting professional moving services, asking friends and family to help you out, planning things in advance, etc.

Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. This is a mentally, emotionally, and physically very demanding period, which is why putting yourself and your kids first is important. If necessary, get a therapist so you can have someone to talk to and get objective advice on your situation. Expressing your feelings and setting priorities is the key to making this unpleasant process as smooth and easy as possible. Only once you are mentally and emotionally ready can you decide whether divorce vs. legal separation is the way to go.