What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation?

photo of husband and wife signing divorce papers

If your marriage is suffering, you may seek to take legal action to improve your situation. The first thing that probably comes to mind is filing for divorce. However, depending upon your circumstances, you and your spouse may prefer a legal separation.

Fortunately, married persons in the state of California have both options available to them.

Similarities Between Divorce and Legal Separation

Divorce and legal separation share a few key similarities. Both create distance between two spouses. While married, two people often share finances, debts, assets, and other responsibilities. With the decision to divorce or legally separate comes a division along these lines. In both cases, the court will decide how to divide your assets and property. If you have children, the court will also help decide custody, visitation, and child support. Additionally, in both cases, any money or assets you acquire afterward will belong solely to you.

The Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation

At this point, you might be wondering which option is right for you. Deciding this will require understanding the main differences between divorce and legal separation.


The biggest difference between the two is the finality of divorce. After finalizing a divorce, you and your spouse are no longer married to one another. Whatever decisions you make concerning the divisions of your assets and responsibilities are more or less final. From this point, you will live your lives as single people. If you seek to reunite with your spouse after a divorce, you must remarry.

Legal Separation

With a legal separation, you and your spouse will remain married. This means that you cannot remarry and that you must indicate your marital status on legal documents. In the event that you and your spouse decide to reunite, a legal separation is reversible. 

Further, if one spouse gives birth after a legal separation, our state considers the other spouse to be one of the child’s guardians by default. Taking a paternity test can change this, however.

While a legal separation may set new financial boundaries for you and your spouse, you may retain certain marital benefits. This may include health care, military, or social security benefits.

Which Is Right for Me?

Figuring out whether to get divorced or legally separated will depend on your circumstances. Some spouses elect to be legally separated for religious reasons. If your convictions prohibit a divorce, a legal separation may be the best avenue for you. 

Other couples opt for legal separation as a way to clear their heads. If your marriage is struggling, you and your spouse may want space from each other. By legally separating, spouses can use this time to reevaluate their marital relationship. Sometimes couples come back refreshed and decide to reunite. 

In other cases, spouses will use a legal separation as a step toward divorce. After spending time apart, some couples realize that they have grown apart and need to finalize their separation.

Contact Our San Diego Divorce Lawyers for Guidance

Both divorce and legal separation are emotionally-charged legal actions. This is because questions concerning love, money, security, and the future come into play. However, if your marriage is struggling, facing these difficult issues may be for the best. Fortunately, you do not have to make such a tough decision on your own.

Our San Diego divorce lawyers understand what couples are going through during this trying time. For this reason, we offer an important legal perspective for struggling spouses. If you are contemplating divorce or legal separation, we encourage you to contact us at 619-269-8000 for help.