My spouse and I are considering a separation, possibly a divorce. What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?
In your question, you have used three terms for changes in marriage status:
- legal separation
- divorce (also called “marriage dissolution”)
simply means living apart. You do not need to file court papers to separate. The law does not require you to live with your spouse. However, separating from your spouse may affect your legal rights. It is best to talk to a lawyer
If you do separate, you will need to arrange for the care of the children, financial support, and payment of bills. A mediator or lawyer can help you and your spouse reach an agreement. A lawyer can advise you on your legal options, if an informal agreement is not possible.
is a major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation
you must serve and file a petition in the District Court
in the county where you or your spouse lives. It is a different process from the divorce process. In Minnesota, you do not have to be separated before you get divorced. The process to get a legal separation takes as long as a divorce, and may cost as much as or more than a divorce. The courts do not publish forms for legal separation. Your county law library
might have more information on legal separation.
In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. The parties can also ask the judge to issue an order that divides the parties' assets and debts.
The major difference is that if you have a legal separation, you are still married. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is complete, you will then need to go through the court process to get divorced.
Since it costs as much, takes as long, and involves the same major issues, why would anyone want a legal separation?
Some couples choose legal separation because of religious beliefs or moral values against divorce. In a few cases, there may be insurance or other financial reasons for a legal separation.