Legal Separation vs. Dissolution of Marriage

Sometimes clients come to our office with the question, what is the difference between a legal separation and a dissolution of marriage? The main difference between obtaining a legal separation and obtaining a dissolution of marriage is that in a legal separation you do not ask the court to terminate your marital status. If you choose to legally separate, neither you nor your spouse will be able to remarry without obtaining a divorce/dissolution of marriage. Some clients may choose to pursue a legal separation for personal reasons, such as religious beliefs or health insurance concerns. Depending on the health plan provider, if you are legally separated, the group health insurance may still cover both spouses, however, this is not true if you are divorced. You must be mindful, however, that the trend is changing and more health insurance companies are viewing legal separation the same as divorce and not allowing the coverage of both spouses. You must always check with the company’s health plan provider.

Now, when you file for a dissolution of marriage, you are asking the court to terminate your marital status.  Other than that main difference, both proceedings look exactly alike. All your assets and debts are identified and characterized as community property or separate property, the community assets and debts are divided in half, child support is awarded if appropriate, and spousal support is awarded if appropriate.  If your judgment is for dissolution of marriage, you can marry someone else the day after it becomes final.  But if your judgment is for legal separation, you’re still married, and you cannot marry anyone else unless and until you go back to court, file a petition for dissolution of marriage, and obtain a final judgment of dissolution of marriage.  If you don’t, your next marriage is not valid.

At Mello & Pickering, LLP, we handle both legal separations and divorce cases. We are able to help parties decide which course of action is best for them. Call us at (408) 288-7800 to set up a free 20 minute telephone conference, or schedule a one hour in person meeting to discuss your options.