Q: What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?
A: A divorce (“dissolution of marriage”) is the termination of the marital relationship between spouses. A decree of dissolution completely terminates the marital status of both parties. A legal separation is a court determination of the rights and responsibilities of spouses arising out of the marital relationship, but a legal separation decree does not terminate the marital status of the parties. To be legal, both a divorce and legal separation require serving and filing papers in District Court. Both a legal separation and a divorce may include issues like custody, parenting time, spousal maintenance (alimony) and child support. Unlike a divorce proceeding, the Court does not make a division of marital property in a legal separation. If one person wants a divorce and the other person wants a legal separation, a divorce will be granted. It is important to note that the term “separation” or “physical separation” simply refers to living apart and is not a legal separation. A physical separation does not necessarily require court involvement, but may affect one’s legal rights.
Q: Why would a person seek a legal separation versus a divorce? Is a legal separation cheaper than a divorce?
A: Some people choose a legal separation over a divorce for moral or religious reasons, or they believe that they will be reconciled at some point. I have also seen people choose a legal separation in order to maintain insurance coverage for a spouse. A legal separation can end costing about the same or more than a divorce in terms of attorney’s fees, court filing fees and other costs.