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Legal Separation vs Divorce: Which is Best for You?

legal separation vs divorce

Legal Separation vs Divorce – what is the difference, and why opt for one over the other? If you know the love is dead, is there any reason to stay legally bound to your partner? The answer may surprise you.

Understanding Legal Separation

Many couples do not jump right to legal separation or divorce, but take short breaks from one another while they weigh the problems in their marriage and try to come up with a plan moving forward. For couples who choose to be apart for the long term, having a legal agreement to lay out the obligations of each party is the benefit of drafting a legal separation agreement.  This document will be legally binding and will address issues such as asset and debt division, spousal and child support, and visitation.

What is the advantage of having this legal document? In fact, it may provide necessary protections. For example, while living apart, one spouse may not make timely payments related to marital debt. Without a binding legal agreement specifying that the debt no longer belongs to the other partner, bill collectors may come after both spouses. In other cases, one spouse may decide to take on more debt, for which the other partner may become liable if a legal settlement of debt has not been previously established.  Financial issues, as well as visitation rights and responsibilities, will have definitive and binding requirements in a legal separation.

Additional Benefits of Legal Separation vs Divorce

While many people may just want to cut ties and move on, for some, there are real benefits to staying legally married:

  • Health Benefits: Many individuals rely on health benefits that are provided by their spouse’s employer.  The cost of health benefits may put a heavy burden on one or both partners, and eliminating that expense could make delaying divorce worthwhile.

  • Tax Benefits: Some couples find that filing joint state and federal tax returns provides significant financial advantages, and choose to remain married for this reason.

  • Social Security Benefits: When couples have been married for 10 years or longer, divorced spouses who do not remarry are eligible for half of a higher-earning spouse’s social security benefit. This does not impact the amount the earning spouse may collect; so staying married for 10 years can benefit the lesser-earning partner without harming the other partner. For couples who are close to the 10-year mark, hanging on a little longer may be worthwhile.

  • Religious Reasons: For some couples, divorce may not be acceptable from a religious standpoint. Although they may no longer choose to live together, they may balk at taking things all the way to divorce.


On the other hand, some couples may feel the need to make a clean cut. One or both partners may be considering marrying someone new, moving out of state, or may simply wish to put the whole thing in the rear view mirror. Under these circumstances, terminating the relationship with a divorce may be the best option. If such couples have already been legally separated, the details of the legal separation agreement can be adapted to address the divorce.

Your Legal Advocate

Whatever your situation, the experienced attorneys at Beck Law P.C., in Santa Rosa can help you make the decision that is best for you. Do you live in Sonoma County, Mendocino County, or Lake County California? If so, contact us for a confidential consultation today.

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