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What are the differences between divorce and legal separation?

As discussed previously on our blog, Tustin couples may find that separating and ending their marriage can be much more complicated when they own a business together. This is one scenario among many where it may make sense to consider legal separation as a temporary phase before moving ahead with a divorce.

Just what, our readers may wonder, is the difference between divorce and legal separation? Perhaps the obvious distinction is that legally separated couples continue to be married, but a court has stipulated certain rights as well as responsibilities for them while they live apart from each other. Let's look a little more closely at this scenario, with the understanding that the discussion is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

One thing a court may order in a legal separation is separation maintenance, simply a different term for what we call alimony and child support in a divorce. However, the amount of separation maintenance could go on to influence court rulings about alimony and child support if the couple does divorce. Custody and visitation arrangements will also be formalized.

Property division could be addressed in different ways, depending on what the legal separation represents for the couple. In a trial separation, during which the couple moves apart and considers whether to divorce or reunite, property will not be legally divided, because the marriage still exists. Other times, couples may live separately with no plan to reunite, in which case property division concerns can arise, depending on when the property was acquired.

When a couple decides to separate for good, regardless of whether paperwork has been filed, this can be called a permanent separation. It's still not the same as divorce; for one thing, any family-related debts (e.g., rent or mortgage payments, child care) incurred prior to the actual divorce will be considered shared debts by each partner.

Some kind of legal separation may be able to help partners who own a business together. They can separate from each other, perhaps to consider or prepare for a divorce, without a sudden shock to the business operations.

Source:, "Legal Separation vs. Divorce," accessed on Nov. 3, 2017

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