If your marriage no longer feels right, it may be time to end it. However, many people struggle to decide how they want to do that. While divorce is treated like the default, it isn’t the best or only choice. In certain circumstances, a legal separation may be a better option.
However, it is not always obvious clear how divorces and separations differ. Below, we compare legal separation vs. divorce, explain how they work, and explore ways to determine which solution best suits your needs.
What Happens During Divorce
Divorce is often treated as the de facto solution when couples separate because it is permanent and complete. When you get divorced, your relationship with your spouse is completely and permanently severed, and you are once again considered legally single.
In the course of your divorce, the assets you share with your spouse are divided according to California’s community property laws or your prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. You may request or be ordered to pay spousal support. If you have children, you will also determine how custody will be awarded and how much child support will be ordered.
These issues can be resolved by cooperating directly with your spouse, through mediation, or by court orders issued by a judge. Regardless of how the final divorce decree is reached, once it has been issued, you are no longer married in the eyes of the law. You can get remarried, file your taxes as a single person, and go about your life.
Benefits of Divorces
The permanency of divorce is its biggest benefit. At the end of the process, you and your spouse will be legally independent of each other. The only connections you will retain are any support or custody orders.
If you’re confident that you want your marriage to end and don’t have moral or religious objections to divorce, this is often the best solution. Divorces are also the best way to end abusive relationships because they end all connections between spouses and prevent the abuser from pressuring the victim to simply reverse a separation.
What Happens During a Legal Separation
Legal separations are similar to divorces, with one critical caveat: they do not end your marriage. The purpose of a separation is to untangle your financial and legal connections from your spouse. However, you will still be legally married once the separation is finalized.
For example, you will still go through the process of dividing your property, awarding spousal support, and determining child custody. You will no longer be responsible for your spouse’s debts, and any property you acquire will be yours alone.
However, you may be required to file taxes as a head of household instead of legally single. In addition, you will not be free to remarry. In exchange for these limits, a legal separation is flexible: you may either reverse it and return to your married state or request that the separation be converted into a divorce.
Benefits of Legal Separations
The fact that separations do not end marriages is both their biggest benefit and their primary drawback. Many couples are hesitant to commit to the permanence of divorces but want to spend significant time apart. Others have religious objections to getting divorced but no longer trust or tolerate each other.
In both of these circumstances, being legally separated may be the best option. It allows couples to handle the most complex aspects of the divorce process without permanently ending the marriage. If they change their minds, they can either have the separation dismissed or converted into a complete divorce. Furthermore, since separations don’t end a marriage, they are often acceptable alternatives for religious people.
How to Choose Between a Legal Separation and a Divorce
The primary difference between divorces and separations is whether you are still married in the eyes of the law. When you’re trying to decide between the two, you’re really asking yourself whether you want to permanently end the relationship.
If you’re conflicted about that, you are not alone. Many people struggle with ending marriages. You can ask yourself the following questions to make your choice easier:
- Are you sure you want your marriage to end? If you know you want to end your relationship for good, the finality of divorce may be the best option.
- Are you worried about changing your mind? If you have doubts about whether you want to permanently end things with your spouse, you can consider a legal separation. Regardless of whether you decide to get back together or end things permanently in the future, your separation will allow you to live independently in the meantime.
- Do you object to divorces on principle? If your moral or religious principles oppose divorce, then a legal separation is less problematic. You will remain legally married, but you will have the freedom to live separately from the partner you no longer want to share your life with.
- Do you believe your spouse may endanger you? If your spouse abuses you, a divorce may be the best option. It is in your best interest to sever all legal connections with them to protect yourself.
Empathetic Legal Counsel for Legal Separations and Divorces
No matter how you decide to end your marriage, working with a compassionate family law attorney is in your best interest. At CC Law Group, our attorneys are dedicated to providing empathetic representation in a wide variety of family law matters. We know the stress you’re under and are here to help. Whether you know you want a divorce or you’re pursuing a legal separation, we will work to accomplish your goals efficiently and effectively. Schedule your consultation with our East Bay law firm to learn how we can help you.