What is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

By David Michael Cantor

When a marital relationship begins to come to an end, it can be hard to decide what to do, what avenue to go down, or even what your options are. Sometimes, a marital relationship may not be at its true end, that, with time apart to see what your life would be like without your spouse, is what is needed to make a decision as the whether to continue the relationship or not. This can be very helpful to couples as it can help them make an informed decision as to whether or not there is any chance of saving the marriage.

There are two main choices one faces when they may or are definitely at the end of their marriage. They can choose to legally separate, or to get a full-fledged divorce.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is a situation in which a couple is still legally married, meaning if a spouse were to find someone else, they would not be free to marry. However, it provides for many legal breaking of ties, allowing each person the ability to make choices of their own, financially and otherwise, as though they were a single individual. This is generally something that is granted for a specific period of time and allows for a couple to determine whether or not they want to, or can, work out their problems.

Many choose this option if they feel like there is still a chance of saving the marriage. Such in the case of infidelity or other relationship-breaker, a separation can be a way for the other spouse to determine if they can move past the indiscretions. Sometimes a legal separation ends in divorce, other times a couple decides that they would like to reconcile.


This is the full-on breaking of all legal ties to one’s spouse. This is the avenue most often chosen when both parties determine that the marriage cannot be saved by any means. When divorced, all aspects of the couple’s life will become separated an the parties are free to move on with their life, marrying someone else if they should so choose. This is permanent and will result in the dissolution of the marriage.

What you choose will be dependent on your situation and if you think there is a chance to save your relationship. Some choose legal separation as a means to see if they want to work out problems with their spouse or if they’d be happier alone. However, some marriages are beyond help and when it reaches this point, divorce may be the best option. Divorce allows a couple to make full and legally binding breaking of ties with one another.

David Michael Cantor

About The Author

David Michael Cantor is an Arizona Divorce Attorney and is AV® rated (the highest possible rating) by Martindale Hubbell®, and is listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers®.