What Is the Difference Between Separation & Divorce?

By Aksana Nikolai

Separation, legal separation and divorce are terms that refer to changes in the status of a marriage. These changes to your marital status and the consequent adjustments in your life can be painful and overwhelming. As a result, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the differences between these three terms, which will enable you to make an educated decision regarding the future of your marriage.

Separation Versus Legal Separation

There is a difference between the terms “separation” and “legal separation,” which is sometimes also referred to as judicial separation. Separation requires no legal action. Couples who are married, but no longer live together fall into the category of separated. Legal separation, on the other hand, is achieved by filing a court petition. Unlike separating, the process of obtaining a legal separation can, in some cases, take as long as getting divorced, and often involves the same legal expenses.

Legal Separation Versus Divorce

Legal separation and divorce are similar because, in both cases, key issues such as custody and placement of children, visitation rights and alimony are addressed. There are a number of reasons why some people opt for legal separation as opposed to a divorce. Examples include religious beliefs or morals that discourage divorce. In other cases, people choose legal separation in order to continue receiving their spouse’s benefits, for example health insurance coverage that no longer carries over once the couple is divorced.


Because legal separation means that two people are still legally married, neither party can marry another person until the legal separation turns into a divorce. As a result, filing for divorce is the ideal choice for those who wish to remarry in the immediate future. Couples who feel that they have still have a chance to save their marriage, on the other hand, often file for separation.

Trial Period

Some couples suggest that separation has a psychological dimension that divorce lacks. Separation, be it legal or not, provides both parties with a glimpse at what it is like to no longer be married to the other person. As a result, separation can be viewed as an introspective experience that can help couples to understand whether or not they are truly ready for divorce. Marriages can be saved as a result of this trial period, which is not possible for couples who immediately file for divorce.


Couples who reconcile their differences and wish to be married again, can dismiss a legal separation at any time, restoring the marriage’s original status. Couples who are divorced, however, must get married again. Couples may convert a legal separation into a divorce at any time, if there is mutual agreement on the issue or after a year of separation, if only one party favors the divorce. Couples who choose to reconcile after filing for divorce can request to delay the action by 90 days. After this waiting period, the couple either dismisses, or proceeds with the divorce.