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What Are the Differences Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

— December 19, 2023

Choosing whether to get divorced or legally separated can be a tough decision to make.

There may come a time when you and your spouse are no longer happy living together as a couple. Nothing dramatic might have affected your marriage; you simply don’t feel the spark you did when you first married. 

It can seem like your only option is divorce, which can seem final and scary. However, legal separation is another option worth considering. If you’re unsure what the differences are, you can learn more about them below: 

Marital Status

Talk to any lawyer from a family law firm, and you’ll learn that your marital status is the most significant difference between separation and divorce. In a divorce, your marriage is legally terminated. You can live life as a single person and remarry as you wish. 

Legal separation differs because you’re still legally married. You’re free to have other relationships but can’t remarry since you’re already married. Most people choosing legal separation have orders and agreements in place for property division, child custody, and spousal support. 


Many couples fear getting divorced because they worry about what it will mean for their finances. When you get divorced, there can be a final decree in place for child custody, marital property, and spousal support. If you aren’t particularly skilled in finance, the finality of this decree can be daunting. 

If you’re just trialing what it would be like to be out of your relationship, you can create a financial plan for separation. You can outline the financial responsibilities of both parties in a separation agreement, such as asset division and child and spousal support. As you spend more time apart, you might realize that some parts of your separation agreement don’t work. If both parties agree, you can make mutual changes to reflect your new living arrangements better. 

Health Insurance

Health insurance is a significant consideration for many people seeking to end their marriages legally. In a divorce, an ex-spouse who was once on the other spouse’s insurance policy is usually ineligible for specific benefits. However, many insurance companies still allow ex-spouses to keep some benefits if they obtain a legal separation since they are still legally married. 

Social Security

Social Security card; image by OpenClipart, via
Social Security card; image by OpenClipart, via

Many people in the United States rely on Social Security benefits to pay for everyday essentials. When you share your benefits with your spouse, the thought of divorce can be nerve-wracking. After a divorce, most spouses are eligible for Social Security benefits based on their own earnings. In exceptional cases, the earnings of an ex-spouse might also be considered. However, legally separating can often be different. You can still claim Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s earnings in many situations. 


Many American families have debt, be it consumer debt or ‘good’ debt, like a mortgage. Your marital status can determine how this debt is managed. When you get legally separated, your agreement determines what debt remains joint, such as a mortgage, and what debt becomes the responsibility of each spouse, such as car payments. When you get divorced, your divorce agreement typically outlines how all your finances will be separated. 

Choosing whether to get divorced or legally separated can be a tough decision to make. Now that you know the differences between these two arrangements, coming to an agreement with your ex-spouse might be much easier. 

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