Difference between Legal Separation and Divorce

August 14, 2016 by Editorial Team

There are very significant differences between legal separation and divorce that are worth considering if someone has to choose between the two.


Legal separation is a legal process in which married couples are allowed to live separately and still remain legally married. A court order is issued to grant a legal separation.

The court order also makes temporary arrangements for child custody (if any children exist), including financial support and care. If a child is born to the couple at a time when a legal separation is in effect, the child is considered legitimate since the marriage is still legally intact. In addition, members of a legally separated couple are not allowed to legally remarry. They can live apart without having to worry about being charged with desertion by either side.

Though not very common, legal separation does not automatically dissolve the marriage. Legally separated couples who reconcile are not required to do anything before living together again and resuming their married life. Separation is also chosen over divorce if a couple’s moral and religious beliefs dictate against it.

Divorce is the dissolution of marriage or marital union. It is the cancellation or reorganization of the responsibilities and legal duties contained in a marriage.

Laws about divorce vary depending on the jurisdiction, or the authority given to a legal body to enforce justice within a specific area. Generally, divorce proceedings are sanctioned by a court or another authority in a legal process. Issues about alimony, child support, custody and visitation, division of debt, and property rights are ruled upon and enforced. In a divorce, each party is allowed to legally remarry another person.


Legal separation allows married couples to live separately without dissolving the marriage. A couple remains married but are living apart. Specific obligations and rights are defined and enforced in any legal separation case.

A divorce lawfully dissolves the marriage, with the divorced parties allowed to legally remarry while legally separated couples are not. Legally separated couples can “resume” the marriage, while divorced couples would need to get married again if needed.

In legal separation proceedings, financial support for the spouse and child is called separation maintenance and can possibly influence what each party would get should they eventually get divorced. In a divorce, spousal support is distinguished as alimony.

Comparison Chart

Legal SeparationDivorce
Married couples can live separately but marriage is still intactMarriage is dissolved
Neither party is allowed to legally remarry someone elseBoth parties can get legally married to other people
Spousal and child support are called separation maintenanceSpousal support is called alimony


Here’s a video that talks about the differences between legal separation and divorce in Colorado, US.