What’s the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation?

Signing a divorce agreement

Which Option Is Best For Your Situation?

When deciding how best to move forward with your strained marriage relationship, you might come across different options on what you can do. The obvious answer is to get a divorce, thus ending the marriage you hoped would be greater than it has been; however, legal separation is another option that has some similarities to divorce but has one big difference. What are the differences between these two options? Here are some things to consider.

What Is Legal Separation?

Legal separation is an alternative to divorce in which both parties can work through marital issues such as child custody, child support, residential parenting time, asset and debt division, and temporary family support payments. In addition, should a couple decide to pursue a divorce after legal separation, their separation agreement and its terms may be used during the divorce to draft a permanent settlement agreement.

If many of the terms of a separation agreement are similar to a divorce agreement, then how does legal separation differ from divorce? The biggest difference between legal separation and divorce is that a couple who gets a legal separation is still legally married. This means that a person in Tennessee who is legally separated from their spouse cannot remarry. A person who is divorced can remarry.

Who Is Legal Separation For?

Remaining married while being legally separated presents a unique alternative to divorce for people with special circumstances. For example, some people elect to stay married, but be legally separated, because of their religious beliefs. Others opt for legal separation because it allows a person with an existing health condition to remain on his or her spouse’s health insurance plan.

What Are the Benefits of Legal Separation?

Legal separation provides some benefits that are similar to those of divorce. You and your spouse can work out a separation agreement with the assistance of your attorney, which allows both of you to resolve issues such as debts, child custody, residential parenting time, child support payments, and other matters; in addition, the terms are put into writing and approved by the Court, thereby making separation agreements legally binding documents.

As mentioned, legal separation allows a couple to remain married yet live apart. Because you and your spouse are still legally married, you still have the same protections as a married couple, such as health insurance and tax benefits (although you should be sure to check with your health insurance company and an accountant). In addition, should you and your spouse choose to reconcile your differences and agree to live together once again, it’s easy to dismiss a complaint for legal separation.

Keep in mind, however, to the extent that a separation agreement provides for the permanent division of assets and liabilities, it might be binding even if the parties reconcile and dismiss the complaint for legal separation. For this reason, the language contained in the separation agreement is critically important.

What If I’m Not Ready to be Fully Separated?

If you and your spouse are considering separation but are a bit apprehensive about what you should do, you can try a trial separation in which you and your spouse live apart and take the time to reevaluate your marriage and come up with terms of a separation agreement that will eventually be negotiated.

Speak With Your Tennessee Attorney

If you are unsure about whether divorce or legal separation is right for you, it’s important to consult with an attorney who can help you understand your options and guide you on what the best course of action is. At Puryear, Newman & Morton, PLLC, we know how big of a decision it is to end your marriage relationship and begin a new chapter of your life. Know that you are not alone; we are here to help you throughout each step of the way.

To schedule a consultation with a member of our family law team, call us at (615) 933-2366 or visit us online.