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What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?

On Behalf of | Jan 14, 2019 | Antenuptial Agreements, Custody, Divorce, Legal Separation, Property Division |

As people are contemplating the end of their marriage, they often want to know if there is a benefit to separating first.  In Minnesota the statute allows for either a “Legal Separation” or a “Dissolution of Marriage.”  Adding to the confusion is that the word “separation” often applies to folks who are trying an informal period apart from one another without a formal legal proceeding.        Following is a brief explanation of the differences between a dissolution of marriage (or divorce), a legal separation and an informal separation: Dissolution of Marriage (or Divorce).   In Minnesota a dissolution of marriage action will terminate your marital relationship completely.  In order to be divorced, you must serve and file a dissolution of marriage action with the District Court.  Once the dissolution is final, you will no longer be married and you will no longer have the rights and obligations afforded to married people under the law (that’s not to say you will not have other obligations as a part of the dissolution proceeding).    If you ever decided that you want to be married to the person you divorced, your only option would be to remarry that person. As a part of a dissolution of marriage action, the Court will require that you address all issues related to custody of children, parenting time (or visitation), child support, spousal maintenance (or alimony), division of assets, allocation of debt, and all other issues stemming from the marital relationship.  In most instances, your divorce will not be final until all issues deemed relevant to the Court are addressed to the satisfaction of the Judge handling your case. Legal Separation.   A legal separation is also major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation, you must serve and file a legal separation action with the Court. In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. The parties can also ask the judge to issue an order that divides the parties’ assets and debts.  In a legal separation action the parties have some limited control over what the Court does and does not address. The major difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that if you are legally separated, you are still married. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is completed, you will then need to go through the court process to get divorced.  Because of this, in many cases, a legal separation action followed by a divorce action can result in the parties spending twice as much time and money as they would have had they simply initiated a dissolution action at the outset. Informal Separation.   Parties will often elect to participate in a temporary or trial separation prior to proceeding with a divorce or legal separation action.  This type of separation is informal and is not governed by the Court.  In most cases, the sharing of expenses, time with the children and allocation for payment of debt and expenses must be agreed upon between the parties. In the event you have disputes that you are unable to resolve amongst yourselves while you are informally separated, you do not have any meaningful way to secure your spouse’s cooperation without commencing a formal divorce or legal separation action. This website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this website should be taken as legal advice for any specific circumstance. As laws vary from state to state, some information on this website may not be correct for your jurisdiction and cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your state.