What is the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation?


It can be devastating when a marriage ends. This can occur for a variety of reasons but regardless of the case, it is important for partners to understand the next step that they should take. There are two main options to explore here: divorce and legal separation.
While the two terms may sound similar, they do have different meanings. Couples must understand the differences so that they can make the right choice that is most suitable for them.


Separation will occur when one party has the intent to live separately from the other. However, this does not require the two parties to be living in separate homes. It is possible for both parties to separate and continue to live in the same home. Factors determining whether a couple is legally separate includes:

Whether they share a bedroom
Engage in meals and chores
Engage in sexual relations
Socialize together

Unlike divorce, parties do not need to apply for separation through the court. This simply describes what occurs when a partnership breaks down. However, there are elements that may need to be addressed legally without delays. This could include:

Financial support
Asset assignments
Parenting schedules
Financial support of children

To ensure that these aspects are handled and managed correctly, both parties will be required to sign a separation agreement. This can be completed with a court order by a judge or through an arbitrator making an award. This is the difference between a couple that is deemed to be separated and a legal separation.

Separation agreements will explain how various matters including those mentioned above will be handled. It will also deal with future issues and ensure that there are legal agreements in place.

For a separation to be legal binding it must be approved by the court. Once this does occur, your property will be divided and your financial connection to your spouse will be severed. This will also be an agreement in place for raising any children.


While it is possible to immediately manage aspects of a legal separation, there will be at least one year from when a couple separates before they can apply for a Divorce Order. If there are children involved in the proceedings, it is unlikely that a divorce will be granted until the right agreements are in place to ensure children will be cared for. This can include:

Parenting schedules
Child support
Custody agreements

The exception to this will be if there are issues including cruelty or adultery within the partnership.

Thirty-one days preceding a divorce order, spouses will be deemed officially divorced. They will be free to apply for a divorce certificate and in doing so can remarry if they wish.

One of the main differences between legal separation and divorce is that legal separation can apply to any common law or married couples. However, only couples who are married are able to obtain a divorce.

Benefits Of A Legal Separation

A legal separation does not end the marriage. As such, it is suitable for couples who may be unsure whether they are ready for a divorce. Instead, it can be suitable for couples who need both space and time before moving to the next step. It may also be suitable for individuals who are unable to divorce due to religious reasons or if there are financial implications of a divorce that can not be managed.

Benefits Of A Divorce

A divorce will be suitable if you are sure this is the right decision for you and if there are no financial benefits accessible from a legal separation. It will also be necessary if you intend to remarry and want no continued connection with your spouse. This includes the ability to make financial or medical decisions for one another as you will no longer be considered their next of kin.

Do You Need A Legal Representative For A Legal Separation?

Regardless of whether you choose a legal separation or to apply for divorce from your spouse, it is important to arrange legal representation. In doing so, you can ensure that issues are dealt with in a way that is both fair and appropriate.

Divorce is always going to be a critical decision for you and your family. As such, it is worth speaking to a legal representative to gain advice and ensure that you are making the right decision.