By Advekit

Posted on August 06, 2019

Understanding the difference between marital separation and divorce is important when seeking counseling. Learn more about each in order to decide what's best for your marriage.

Separation and divorce

Ending a marriage is never easy. Maybe you’ve tried everything, including going to a therapist, and you still end up deciding that it’s best for the two of you to separate. Likely, the last thing you and your spouse need is to go through a long legal battle to sort out matters. Many couples don’t realize that they have options when it comes to ending their marriage.

You’re probably familiar with the term, divorce. And you may have heard of separation and legal separation, but do you understand each of these terms and what the differences are between them? Knowing your options can help you make the most informed decision when deciding to split up with your spouse or not. 

What is Separation?

Separating from your partner means to live apart from them. In order to separate from your spouse, you don't need to file any court papers. Still, separating may affect you and your spouse’s benefits and taxes. Divorce counseling can help you to decide if separation is a good option for you and your spouse.

If you choose to separate, matters such as finances, childcare, child support, and taxes will still need to be figured out. Some couples are able to hash through these matters on their own, while others will need help from a counselor. In some cases, the court can instill custody and finance orders even if you haven’t filed for a divorce or legal separation.

What is Legal Separation?

Most states recognize legal separation as an official status. In these states, a couple has to petition in court to have themselves recognized as legally separated. Legal separation is similar to divorce in many ways.

Like divorce, terms such as child custody, division of assets and debts, child support, spousal support, and more are all court-ordered. Legal separation creates a set of rules and boundaries that you and your partner must follow. Also, like divorce, you’ll be completely separated from your partner, living apart, and likely no longer involved romantically.

The difference between legal separation and divorce is that when you’re legally separated, you’re still technically married. This means that you can’t remarry while under these circumstances. You’ll continue to file taxes as a married individual and your status will remain as married on other legal documents.

You may be wondering why a couple would choose to be legally separated rather than get a divorce. It really comes down to personal choice and there are many reasons why couples choose this path. Sometimes, it’s a moral or religious matter. Legal separation is a way of completely separating from your spouse while maintaining your married status. In addition, legally separated couples can continue enjoying certain benefits, such as Social Security. Pensions and life insurance plans also remain intact with a legal separation.

Finally, one of the most important differences between divorce and legal separation is that separations are reversible. When you get a divorce, you can’t undo it.

What is a Divorce?

If you file for divorce that means you completely dissolve your marriage as a couple. All financial assets are divided, arrangements for children are made, and support for children or spouse is determined. Any tax, social security, healthcare, or other benefits the couple has been receiving as a unit, end. Divorced individuals can remarry and begin new lives completely autonomous from their ex-spouse.

Is Divorce Counseling Just For Divorce?

No. Divorce counselors can assist couples who want to separate and reach an agreement that works for them. Countless hours and thousands of dollars can be saved by turning to divorce counseling to help with your separation or divorce. These skilled professionals can help you to avoid spending costly time with lawyers and in the courthouse and instead, help you work towards an agreement that meets everyone’s needs.

Remember that divorce isn’t the only option when it comes to separating from your spouse. Separation and legal separation are viable choices for many couples. It depends on your specific situation and needs. 

Filing for a divorce is a huge decision. It might be worth considering other alternatives before signing any papers. Using separation as a stepping stone towards divorce is a popular option for many couples. One benefit of this is the opportunity to get the space that you and your partner need without having to hash through all of the legal and financial obligations of divorce immediately. Whatever path you choose, knowing the difference between separation and divorce can go a long way towards making the process as smooth as possible. If you’re looking to find the right match for a divorce counselor, Advekit can help. There are many benefits of therapy, especially while going through a difficult life transition.


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Reviewed By

Alison LaSov, LMFT


Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.

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