What Is The Difference Between Divorce And Legal Separation?

Divorce And Legal Separation – What’s The Difference?

In Colorado, as in many other states, both divorce and legal separation represent formal legal processes that address the issues arising from the breakdown of a marriage.

These processes include the distribution of marital property, allocation of marital debt, determination of spousal maintenance (alimony), and, if applicable, child custody and support. Despite their similarities, legal separation and divorce are distinct legal statuses with different implications for the marital relationship.

Divorce

Divorce, legally termed “dissolution of marriage” in Colorado, represents the termination of a marriage by a court, after which the parties are free to remarry. The divorce process involves several steps, including the filing of a petition by one or both spouses, serving the petition on the other spouse, negotiating agreements regarding assets, debts, and other matters such as child custody, and obtaining a court order that finalizes the divorce.

The outcome of a divorce is the legal end of the marriage, signifying that both parties are no longer legally bound as spouses and are free to enter into new marital relationships.

Legal Separation

Legal separation, on the other hand, allows couples to live apart and lead separate lives without formally ending the marriage. The process for obtaining a legal separation in Colorado is similar to that of a divorce, requiring the filing of a petition and resolution of issues regarding property, debts, and children.

However, unlike divorce, at the end of a legal separation, the parties remain legally married. This status can be important for religious, insurance, tax, or personal reasons. Couples may choose legal separation over divorce for various reasons, including maintaining health insurance benefits, adhering to religious beliefs, or as a step towards reconciliation.

Key Differences

  1. Marital Status: The most significant difference is the marital status following the conclusion of the process. A divorce ends the marriage, whereas a legal separation does not. After a divorce, individuals are free to remarry. After a legal separation, individuals remain married and cannot enter into a new marriage unless they convert the separation into a divorce.
  2. Financial Ties: Both processes address financial issues such as division of property, debts, and alimony. However, because a legally separated couple is still married, they might retain certain financial benefits of marriage, such as tax advantages and eligibility for spousal benefits under certain insurance policies.
  3. Reversibility: Legal separation can be a reversible process, to an extent. If a couple decides to reconcile, they can request the court to dismiss the legal separation order, resuming their married life. In contrast, once a divorce is finalized, the parties must remarry if they choose to reconcile formally.
  4. Health Insurance and Social Security Benefits: Some couples opt for legal separation instead of divorce to retain eligibility for certain benefits, like remaining on a spouse’s health insurance plan. However, policies vary by insurer, and some may not recognize legal separation as a basis for continued coverage. Social Security benefits, particularly survivor benefits, may also be affected differently by divorce compared to legal separation.
  5. Religious and Personal Reasons: Legal separation may be preferred over divorce due to religious beliefs that prohibit or discourage divorce. Additionally, some couples may choose legal separation for personal reasons, including the desire to maintain a legal relationship for the sake of children or the hope of eventual reconciliation.

Divorce And Legal Separation In Colorado

While both legal separation and divorce in Colorado address similar legal issues regarding property, finances, and children, they lead to different marital statuses and have unique implications for the individuals involved.

The choice between divorce and legal separation depends on various factors, including personal, financial, and religious considerations. Individuals considering either option should consult with legal professionals to understand fully the implications of their choices and to navigate the legal process effectively.

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Mary Daugherty - Colorado Springs Lawyer

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