What Is Purpose of Legal Separation?

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Many states allow married couple the option to file for a legal separation as an alternative to the more permanent divorce. A legal separation is similar to a divorce but has distinct differences.


A legal separation is more than just physically separating yourself from your spouse. A legal separation involves filing a petition with a court and ultimately results in a court-ordered decree of legal separation.

Similarities to Divorce

In most states, a legal separation can resolve most, if not all, of the same issues that a divorce resolves. For instance, custody of minor children can be determined, assets can be divided and responsibility for debts can be allocated. Furthermore, once the decree has been entered, you will no longer be responsible for your spouse's future debts.

Differences from Divorce

The biggest difference is that once the decree has been granted, you are still legally married and cannot remarry. As a result of still being legally married, you may also continue to be entitled to retirement, insurance or tax benefits of your spouse.


The procedure for filing for a legal separation in usually the same as divorce. In some states the residency or grounds requirements are different, but the basic procedure is the same. You must file a petition with the court and serve your spouse with a copy. You will attend a final hearing where you will present an agreement if you have one or the judge will decide the issues and grant you the decree.

Reasons to Choose Legal Separation

Some people have a strong moral or religious objection to divorce and therefore choose a legal separation. Other people prefer to try a legal separation first before committing to the more permanent divorce. Still others wish to continue to allow their spouse the benefit of important health insurance or tax benefits that can only continue if they are still legally married.


About the Author

Renee Booker has been writing professionally since 2009 and was a practicing attorney for almost 10 years. She has had work published on Gadling, AOL's travel site. Booker holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Ohio State University and a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University School of Law.