What Are The Major Differences Between Separation And Divorce?

When a couple begins having marital problems, they have two choices. They can choose to end the marriage completely and get a divorce, or they can choose to become legally separated.

Differences Between Separation And Divorce

Depending on the state that you live in, community property needs to be taken into consideration as does actually becoming legally separated. Certain states do not allow this. If your state does, it is important to ask, what are the major differences between separation and divorce?

Health Coverage

Some couples choose to get legally separated rather than divorced so that one spouse can keep their health coverage. If one spouse is covered under the others health insurance and they get divorced, the spouse will lose their coverage once the divorce is finalized. A legal separation would allow that spouse to remain on the others policy.

Spousal Support

When a couple gets divorced, it may be ordered that one spouse pays the other spousal support. This is also true in the case of divorce. In either case, the spouse paying spousal support can use the monies paid as a deduction at tax time.

Living Separately

Like divorce, when couples become legally separated, they would begin living separately. Typically, the spouses have made a decision as to who would reside in the couple’s home and who would move out before they sign the legal separation papers. In the case of a divorce, who would reside in the couple’s home becomes more difficult. Often times in the case of divorce, both couples would be required to move out unless one wants to purchase the others half of the home and its furnishings.

Child Custody and Support

When a couple gets legally separated, there is an order that gets put in place when the papers are signed as to who the children will live with and how much one spouse will pay the other in child support. If the couple decides to continue living apart and decides to get a divorce, this order usually carries over.

Military and Social Security Benefits

Often times, couples who are married just shy of ten years choose a legal separation rather than a divorce. This is because when couples hit the ten year mark in marriage, they become eligible for certain benefits. If you are married to your spouse for ten years, you would become eligible to share a portion of your spouses social security benefits even after you are divorced. The same is true with military medical benefits. After ten years a spouse would be eligible to have and keep these benefits, depending on marital status.


When a couple is legally separated, they are still married in the eyes of the IRS. Therefore, when it comes time to do their taxes, couples must file as either married filing jointly, or married filing separately. The couple can not each file as singe or head of household unless they become legally divorced.

Overall, the difference between marriage and separation is all financial. Many couples find that it is more financially beneficial to get legally separated than get married. Legal separation works for many couples for quite a while. If one spouse wants to get married however, it is necessary for the couple to get divorced and one of the spouses will be forced to give up all of the benefits they had when they were married.

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