Skip to Content Top

What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation?


Divorce and legal separation have many similarities but differ significantly in one way: legal separation does not end a marriage whereas divorce does. If you and your spouse are not getting along, it would be beneficial to determine which option may be best for you in the long run. Divorce and separation both have their own benefits, however; figuring out which method will work for you and your spouse is entirely up to you. Today, we review the key differences between legal separation and divorce.

What Is Legal Separation?

Legal separation is a process which allows a couple to remain legally married but separate, meaning they do not live together. A legal separation agreement recognizes the couples’ separation and contains information regarding issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and living arrangements. Legal separation is not just an option for a couple that is uncertain about ending their marriage. Here are some other reasons why a couple may choose to legally separate:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Tax benefits
  • Social Security benefits
  • Medical benefits
  • Failure to meet state’s residency restrictions for a divorce (in this case, the couple would legally separate before divorcing)

If you legally separate, you cannot remarry. You should keep this piece of information in mind if you have hopes of remarrying in the future. If you would like to get married again, you will need to adjust your legal separation to a divorce.

What Is Divorce?

Also known as dissolution of marriage, divorce is the process of terminating or ending a marriage.

Legal Separation Versus Divorce

Legal separation may suit you and your spouse in the event you are not ready to divorce or have a valid reason for continuing your marriage, such as maintaining medical benefits. For a couple looking to work on their relationship, legal separation could provide them with the space and opportunity to do so. Additionally, if obtaining a divorce goes against a couple’s religious beliefs, legal separation can provide them with much-needed peace of mind.

However, in the event you are certain you would like to end your marriage, divorce would be a more suitable option. Additionally, if you would like to sever all financial ties from your spouse, (excluding child support and spousal support) divorce would also make more sense to you. It is important to note that a divorce cannot be undone, whereas a legal separation can. In the event you are uncertain about which method will work for you, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney for additional support.

Both methods will resolve issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, child visitation, property division, and debt allocation.

Reasons for Legal Separation or Divorce

You can obtain a legal separation just like you would a divorce without needing to state a specific reason for wanting to pursue one. This is called a no-fault separation or divorce, which can be granted due to irreconcilable differences.

Requirements for a Legal Separation or Divorce

To file for a divorce in California, you must meet the residency requirement. You must have been a resident of the state for at least 6 months or of your county of filing for at least 3 months. A legal separation does not have a residency requirement. Therefore, couples who have recently moved to California may choose a legal separation first before filing for divorce. Legal separations also do not require a waiting period like divorces do, so you can obtain one much faster.

Consult with an Experienced Family Law Attorney at Our Firm

It is not always easy to determine if legal separation or a divorce would be in you and your family’s best interests. At the Neshanian Law Firm, Inc., we have provided compassionate and comprehensive family law services since 2005. We are results-oriented lawyers dedicated to resolving your family law issues. If you need assistance determining if divorce or legal separation is for you, do not hesitate to contact our firm.

Complete a contact form online or call our office at (949) 577-7935 to get started today.