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

Yee Law Group Inc. > Divorce v. Legal Separation: What’s the Difference?

Estate Planning Lawyer

If you are considering the process of legally ending your marriage, you have likely heard two common terms: divorce or legal separation. These terms are typically used interchangeably, but each have different significance in court. So what is the difference between the two? What are the processes? And what is the best choice for your lifestyle?


A divorce is the legal end of a marriage. Throughout the court process, your assets will be divided, custody arrangements will be determined and spousal and child support amounts will be calculated. The estates of both spouses are officially split and they are no longer permitted to share health insurance or tax benefits. At the close of the divorce filing process, the wife is legally allowed to change her name.


In official terms, a “seperated” couple is still married. You can live in a completely different zip code, or even country, from your spouse and still be legally bound together. The only thing that might change in some states is your filing status on your taxes (you would file as “separated” instead of “married’). However, separated couples don’t have legally mediated conclusions regarding bill payments and custody; so if issues arise between you and your spouse, you would need to go through some special procedures with an attorney to ensure you receive the support you’re due.

Legal Separation

A “legal separation” is an official status change for your relationship. To obtain a legal separation, you must file a petition in court. Similarly to a divorce, the court will mandate spousal support and duties, but the couple will remain married.

While legal separation aren’t as common as divorces, they are helpful if the spouses just want time to work through lifestyle or financial decisions currently impacting the marriage. Other couples choose to pursue a legal separation because they hold religious or moral beliefs against the concept of divorce. Still more want to function independently from their spouse but still receive the insurance and tax benefits they enjoyed during marriage.

After filing for a legal separation, you can choose to move forward with the divorce, or just remain separated from your spouse permanently. If the wife does not finalize a divorce, she is not allowed to legally change back to her former name.

Choosing how to end your marriage can be a painful and confusing process, as a divorce attorney, such as from Brandy Austin Law Firm, knows well. This is made even more perplexing by the fact that some states refuse to recognize legal separation. No matter which route you choose, you should work with an attorney who can help you work out the intricacies between divorce and legal separation.