Explanation of differences between divorce and legal separation
A divorce and a legal separation are very similar except that after a divorce the parties are no longer married.
In a divorce, the marriage is dissolved. Property and debt are divided and spousal maintenance is determined, if any. If applicable, a parenting plan and child support are also determined. By federal law, the parties may not remain on each other's health insurance.
In a legal separation, the parties remain married. As in divorce, the assets and debts are divided, parenting time, custody and child support are determined and spousal support is also determined. Since the parties remain married, though, they can usually remain on each other's health insurance and other insurance policies. Check with your particular insurance company, though, as some do not allow legally separated couples to remain on the same policy.
Why a legal separation?
The most common reasons for a legal separation are:
1) Religious reasons. The parties do not believe in divorce.
2) Health insurance reasons. The parties want to be divorced but one party has serious health issues that would make him/her uninsurable and the parties are amicable enough to agree on a legal separation so that the other party is not uninsured.
3) Debt issues or other legal considerations. If one party is involved in financial matters that the other spouse is uncomfortable with but still wants to remain married, a legal separation will stop the innocent spouse from incurring liability for the other's actions. Typical to this category is gambling.
There are essentially no differences procedurally with the exception of one line in the petition filed with the court. To divorce, you file a Petition for Dissolution. To separate, you file a Petition for Legal Separation.
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