What’s the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

Divorce vs. Separation: what’s the difference and how do I proceed with each process? Although they seem similar to most everyday people, divorce and legal separation are two very different marital statuses. If you find yourself considering separation in your marriage, it’s imperative to know your options and which status will be correct for your unique circumstance.

Divorce vs. Separation

Legal separation is an acknowledgment of married couples in a transitional period, needing physical space from their partner but remaining legally married. In contrast, divorce is a formal ending of a marriage by a court that acknowledges the marriage no longer is valid. Divorce is often a longer and more laborious process than separation, as there are typically lawyers involved in dividing assets and ensuring each party is protected during this transitional period.

Divorce can be a bit more complicated in comparison to legal separation because no divorce is the same. For instance, the signing or lack thereof of a prenup can further complicate and extend the divorce process. Additionally, when sharing property or children, there is an added layer of complexity as lawyers try to find the best resolution for your family.

What Is Legal Separation?

Legal separation is a status for married couples who live apart but remain legally married. This agreement can come mutually from both parties of the marriage, or in some limited cases court-ordered. Still, you may be wondering, why not just divorce? Choosing the legal separation process over divorcing can provide married couples time and space to determine whether or not they will decide to divorce when they are legally able to do so one year from date of separation.

A legal separation can be advantageous for some couples, as reconciliation is a lot easier to navigate. If a legally separated couple decides to reconcile, they simply need to revoke any written prior agreements or dismiss any pending court actions for child custody, support, and/or division of marital property. Additionally, when legally separated, you can still enjoy the mutually beneficial tax benefits, eligible health insurance benefits, and other fiscal incentives that come from being a married couple.

Legal separation process & requirements

The legal separation process often includes drafting a separation agreement between both parties that details the boundaries that will be set during your separation. The legal separation process can protect both parties, by requiring that they live separately and uphold any other boundaries to make for a smooth transition.

This agreement also typically outlines any financial obligations, child support, and custody, as well as visitation agreements. Again, no one separation agreement is going to be the same as another because each circumstance is unique.

For Charlotte, North Carolina residents, it is required that if the parties choose to enter into a written legal separation agreement, it must be signed by both parties, with notarization on each signature. Additionally, to be considered separated, both parties must live in different homes and at least one spouse needs to intend that the separation be permanent.

Division of assets and debts

When proceeding with the legal separation process, both parties ’ attorneys will work on creating an equal and fair division of assets and debts as you move forward in your legal separation. Generally, child custody is a huge area that needs to be considered in these situations. In North Carolina, provisions for child custody and child support are allowed in separation agreements.

When it comes to financial obligations and debts, things can get a bit complex. There typically is an opportunity for either temporary or final division of assets and debts depending on whether the parties wish for a final separation of accounts to occur prior to their divorce. Each case is going to be different, and Remington & Dixon is prepared to help navigate legal separations for all Charlotte residents.

Similarities between legal separation and divorce

Legal separation and divorce are similar in the sense that they both mark a significant change in marital status, indicating a temporary or permanent separation in your marriage. Depending on the situation, defining this transition in your marriage can be extremely validating for married spouses looking to begin the process of separation.

Additionally, both options indicate different living circumstances, which is especially significant for legal separations, as North Carolina law requires each spouse to live in different residences for at least one year before the parties may divorce.

Long-term implications of separation

Although a legal separation can be validating for the changing nature of a marriage, it can also have long-term implications worth considering before getting one. In general, the separation of living circumstances will likely increase each spouse’s cost of living, especially when considering possible child support if applicable.

Additionally, should one or both spouses find new partners that they are interested in marrying, they are legally unable to as they are still legally married to each other. A legal separation may not always end in divorce, but in the case that it does, this can further drag out the process requiring a lot of time, effort, and money from both parties.

Divorce vs. Separation: Which is right for you? Contact Remington & Dixon today

Are you considering divorce vs. separation in your marriage? Jennifer Dixon, Divorce Lawyer at Remington & Dixon in Charlotte, NC can help navigate the complexities of this difficult life transition with legal support and knowledge. Contact Remington & Dixon PLLC today for a consultation to get started.


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While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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