Both dissolution (or divorce) and legal separation are court-recognized statuses that indicate you are no longer living with your spouse. The biggest difference between the two is your legal marriage status. If you choose dissolution, your marriage is legally ended. If you choose a separation, however, you remain legally married.
Role of the Courts
In both dissolution and a legal separation, the court steps in to divide assets and debts, establish parenting arrangements, and implement support for spouses and children. Though they can often be changed by returning to court, these agreements go into effect as soon as the court approves them. Whether you are legally separated or divorced, you are responsible for abiding by the regulations set forth in the final judgment.
If you’re sure you no longer want to be married or if you need to be considered single in the eyes of the law, dissolution is the right choice for you. If you want to get remarried, for example, you’ll need to file for a dissolution that will legally end your first marriage.
Choosing a Separation
If you’re not sure that you want to end your marriage, a legal separation offers legal protection while you try living apart. Although you will be legally married during your separation, your property and parenting rights are covered by the court-sanctioned separation agreement. This allows you the time you may need to work on your marriage without putting your property, finances, or children at risk.
Other common reasons for choosing a separation include religious reasons and marital benefits. If your religion prohibits divorce, a separation allows you to live separately and maintain separate financial statuses without obtaining a divorce. You may also want to stay married to continue receiving marital benefits, such as health insurance sponsored by one spouse’s employer, social security benefits, the ability to file joint taxes, and military spouse benefits. A separation may allow you to keep these benefits without having to live with your spouse. However, some states, employers, and other institutions will not extend marital benefits if you are separated.
Making a Decision
While dissolution and legal separation are similar, their slight differences can make a significant impact on your finances and lifestyle. Before deciding which solution is best for you, consult a family law attorney. An attorney can help you navigate your personal situation and your specific state laws to make the right choice for your family.