What Is the Difference Between a Legal Separation and A Divorce?
In Washington, married couples have the option of filing for legal separation instead of a divorce if they prefer. The process of obtaining a legal separation is nearly identical to the process of obtaining a divorce, and many of the outcomes are the same. Still, there are some key differences to consider when deciding whether a divorce or a legal separation is right for your family.
If you and your spouse legally separate, you will still be legally married. Perhaps most significantly, this means that neither of you can marry someone else unless you first ask the court to convert your legal separation into a divorce. Couples that legally separate can also still take advantage of federal tax benefits for married couples and are still considered married for the purposes of their health insurance and Social Security benefits. Couples may choose a legal separation over a divorce for these financial reasons. Most often, however, couples choose a legal separation for religious reasons, or because they recognize the need to live independently of one another, but still hope to reconcile at some point.
It is also worth noting that legal separation is not a step toward divorce, and it cannot be achieved more quickly than a divorce can. Just like in a divorce proceeding, couples must wait ninety days from the time one or both of them files for legal separation before the legal separation will be finalized.
Legally separated couples are still required to have a parenting plan and to divide their assets and debts. One legally separated spouse may still be required to pay spousal support to the other, but both parties will be financially independent of their spouse after the legal separation becomes final. Just like in a divorce, the details of these arrangements can be worked out during the ninety-day period.