Understanding the Basics: Divorce vs. Separation

Understanding the Basics: Divorce vs. Separation

  • Nov 8 2016

There is a great deal of murkiness surrounding the legal implications and general understanding of what it means to be divorced versus what it means to be separated. When you couple difficult definitions with confusing legal terms, the whole situation can fast become overwhelming. Here are some definitions and basic explanations to better understand divorce vs. separation:


Divorce is when two spouses legally are no longer married. In the eyes of the state, the marriage has ended. This differs from what is called a legal separation, where, in the eyes of the state, the two spouses are still legally married.


A legal separation may be a good idea if couples find themselves trying to work through a personal or financial issue that is impacting the marriage.

Different Styles of Separation

  • Trial Separation: This is for couples that want to test out living separately without legal implications. This is still viewed as a period of time within the marriage, and any property or debt is shared — including any newly acquired property or debt. It is not until the couple decides to legally end the marriage that this will change. Even if the marriage ultimately ends in divorce, until that time, property is viewed as shared.
  • Living Separately: Depending on what state the couple lives in, living separately can have different legal implications. For some states, living separately does not have any consequence on property division until one of the spouses gains the intent to end the marriage. All property and debt acquired from that point on is considered separate. Some states consider property and debt separate if the couple is living apart, no matter what the intent is of the couple, while other states consider property shared until a divorce complaint is officially filed with the state. If a couple is considering living in separate residences, it is a good idea to check with the state to see which ruling on the division of property is applicable.
  • Permanent Separation: A permanent separation is exactly what it sounds like; a separation for good. Most states view all property and debt acquired while permanently separated as separate property. If property is acquired while separated that is necessary for the family, then it is shared. Property and debt of this nature may include house payments, maintenance of the home, or childcare related expenses.

There are many nuances to understanding the complexities of choosing separation vs. divorce. When considering which path is best for you, it is important to contact a family law attorney and review your options.

Posted in: Divorce, Separation