Divorce v. Legal Separation – What’s the Difference?

On Behalf of | May 11, 2022 | Divorce

Imagine that you and your partner have decided your marriage isn’t a happy one, but your religious or personal beliefs do not allow you to divorce.  Or perhaps you aren’t certain whether you want to formally end your marriage and want to leave open the possibility of reconciliation with space to breathe and think.  What do you do then?

In these cases, a legal separation could be the perfect solution to your problem.  A legal separation in Washington State allows a couple to remain legally married but live completely separate lives, both physically and financially.  Whether you get a divorce or a legal separation you have to divide your assets, create a parenting plan (if there are children), assign financial responsibility for debts and other obligations and end the accumulation of marital community assets from your earnings and savings.   It is not a legal separation if you are only physically separated, as when one spouse moves out of the house.  A legal separation comes about after you file court papers and complete the legal process by obtaining a Final Legal Separation Order.

It is possible for a couple who has gone through a legal separation to reconcile and ask the court to dissolve their legal separation so that they can be legally married again. If you are legally separated you can’t marry another person because you are still legally married to your spouse.

Some additional benefits of legal separation may include preserving health insurance coverage/benefits through the spouse’s employer’s insurance (in some cases), using legal separation as a stepping stone to divorce so that the final dissolution comes less as a shock to family members, or using legal separation as a test run to see if this really is the right choice for the family.

In Washington State, you don’t have to be legally separated prior to getting a divorce if that is the path that you and your spouse choose.  But, if you are already legally separated, converting that later into a divorce is a simple matter because all of the assets have already been divided and the parenting plan for any children is already in place. A Final Legal Separation Order can be converted to a Final Divorce Order through the legal process after the Final Legal Separation Order has been in effect for six months.

Always consult a family law attorney to understand your legal options and before you sign documents affecting your marital relationship.