When you need to make a change in your marriage, there are multiple avenues to take to either hit “pause” or “delete.” The first step is determining whether divorce or separation is in your future.
Divorce and separation are dissimilar in many ways, the most substantial one being how permanent the outcome is. Divorce is final, while separation leaves the door open for reconciliation.
What is Divorce?
Divorce legally and permanently ends a marriage. Every state handles the divorce process differently, but one detail remains true: if a couple is pursuing a divorce, they are interested in irrevocably ending their marriage.
Divorce touches upon many pertinent matters, including property and debt division, spousal support, and child custody. Once decisions have been made on these issues, whether between spouses or by a judge, they are entered into an order, making them
legally binding. The only way to change any details in your court order is through appeal or modification.
Before filing for divorce, it usually requires much thought, as once a divorce is finalized, there is no going back.
What is Separation?
Separation does not legally end a marriage. Many spouses go through periods of discord, wanting to separate for one reason or another. Separating, rather than divorcing, is a less permanent way of spending time apart, whether for a season or the long term.
The details of a separation differ by the couple and their circumstances. There are various types of separations, and the best one for a couple depends on their situation and desired outcome.
Trial separation, as the name suggests, is an informal separation. If you wish to do a
“trial run” and determine whether you want to make the separation permanent or make amends, a trial separation may be right for you.
Because a trial separation is usually a short-term separation, it does not require taking any legal action.
Permanent separation is for couples with little to no hope of ever reconciling. It often comes after a trial separation, if you decide you’d like to remain separated and make it permanent. Often, permanent separation leads to a divorce.
If you decide to permanently separate, this can change your legal status and affect property division.
Legal separation is a more formal separation recognized by the courts. However, not all states allow for legal separation, so it is wise to check your state’s laws.
A legal separation shares some similarities with divorce: you must file a petition with the court and deal with many of the same matters as divorce, like property distribution and alimony. If you and your spouse can work together, you can come up with a separation agreement to submit to the court. Otherwise, a judge can oversee your case and make rulings.
Some states allow you and your spouse to remain legally separated indefinitely. Alternatively, other states put a time limit on legal separation. After the time has expired, you must decide whether to reconcile or file for divorce.
Legal separation works for many couples in states that allow it.
Creating a Separation Agreement
Regardless of the type of separation you choose, it is wise to create a separation agreement. A solid agreement can minimize confusion and set healthy boundaries.
Topics to consider including in your separation agreement include:
- The anticipated length of the separation
- Your living arrangements
- How you will handle bills and debts
- Child custody, visitation, and support
While you don’t need a separation agreement under certain circumstances, it can be particularly beneficial to have one with as much detail as possible.
Divorce vs. Separation
The most significant difference between divorce and separation is the finality. While a divorce cannot be reversed, couples going through a separation can reconcile. Divorce legally ends the marriage; a separation keeps the marriage legally intact.
When it comes to legal separation in particular, it’s common to wonder “why not just get divorced?” Many couples prefer legal separation for several reasons including:
- Religious reasons
- The need to maintain benefits, like health insurance, that you’d likely lose in a divorce
- The desire to maintain the family together, especially for the children’s sake
- A dislike of or disagreement with the divorce process in general.
For couples interested in making some sort of change in their relationship, it is important to learn about both options and understand how they could affect you, your spouse, and your marriage. If possible, it is usually best to discuss with your spouse and get on the same page regarding the next steps. It can reduce contention and lessen stress and pressure.
Some States Require Separation Before Divorce
It is helpful to note some states require separation before a court will grant a divorce.
When a state imposes a separation requirement, you must follow the guidelines. For example, most states require couples to live separately or avoid sexual relations throughout the separation period. If you violate any of the guidelines, you risk having to start your separation period all over again, delaying your divorce.
Consult with a lawyer to determine whether your state has a pre-divorce separation requirement and whether it applies to your particular situation.
Divorce or Separation: Is One Better than The Other?
It’s difficult to definitively say whether divorce is better than separation or vice versa. At the end of the day, it comes down to you, your desired outcome, and what works best for both of you.
Before making any decisions, weigh out your options. Additionally, a family law attorney can help provide some direction and address your questions and concerns.
Seek Legal Guidance for Your Separation or Divorce
If you’re at a crossroads unsure of which road to take, an unbundled lawyer can help you decide what’s best for you and your future.
Whether you need minimal legal assistance or more extensive support and
representation, an unbundled lawyer is available to you when you need them most. The best part: you only pay for the services you need, and not anything else.
While traditional lawyers charge between $5,000 and $10,000 with an Unbundled Lawyer you can get started for as little as $500-$1,500. To learn more about the costs involved with hiring a lawyer see this article.