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What is the difference between legal separation and divorce, and what are my rights?

Phoenix, AZ |

My husband asked me for a legal separation two weeks ago. I have read about both, but don't fully understand. I also need to know my rights regarding my children, living arrangements, bills, insurance, etc. I have been mostly a stay at home mom only working part time. Thank you.

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Attorney answers 4


Legal separation and divorce are the exact same thing except for the dissolution of the actual marriage relationship - it's all the work and hassle of a divorce without actually being divorced - you'd still have to come back later and complete a divorce if that's what you wanted. Frankly, I steer people away from L.S. at all costs - if you aren't ready for a divorce, L.S. isn't an alternative.

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The biggest difference is that Legal Separation allows you to stay on your spouse's health insurance.

Other things to note are: A legal separation can later be undone, whereas a divorce would require re-marriage. In addition, a legal separation can be converted into a divorce with a simple form at any time.

Generally legal separation is done by people wishing to maintain health insurance coverage for their spouse, or for religious reasons. If these do not apply to you, then you should go with divorce. If you are uncertain if you want to take the plunge into divorce, however, you should consider Conciliation Counseling - basically counseling to help save your marriage.

You have raised questions regarding your rights as far as insurance, bills, etc when it comes to divorce. You should speak to a local family law attorney to help guide you in the right direction.

Our office, as do many others, provides free consultations to assess your specific legal needs. Feel free to give us a call to set one up at 480-840-3138 or visit We have offices in Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale.


The short answer is that the only difference is that you are still legally married. You can divide all property and debts, establish child support and spousal maintenance, and deal with custody issues in either Decree. Thusly, all of your concerns can be addressed in either.

Be very careful about obtaining a separation to keep your health insurance in place as another attorney suggested. Many carriers have specific exclusions , and it will not matter to them if you are divorced or legally separated. They will cancel your coverage if that is their right, and you should check before going down this avenue.

Separations are a valid tool where there is a religious issue. It will allow both parties to move on, but technically, they are still married.

A separation must be converted to a formal divorce if you wish to remarry again. This will come at an additional cost.


The primary and obvious difference is that a legal separation does not dissolve the marriage, so you are still married if you obtain a legal separation. Many times people choose this option for religious purposes. Also, sometimes certain benefits (such as health insurance) can continue under a legal separation, whereas those benefits terminate when a couple is divorced.

With respect to your rights, that is something I would encourage you to consult with an experienced family law attorney regarding. They will need to get some specifics from you in order to fully explain your rights. However, in general, you have a right to joint custody of your children, parenting time with them, child support for them if appropriate pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, an equitable division of all property, assets and debts obtained during the marriage, and spousal maintenance as appropriate.

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