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Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2022 | Divorce

Legal separation and divorce are distinct ways to exit a marriage in Washington. Understanding the differences is the first step to choosing how you want to move forward with your life when you realize your marriage is really over.

Alliance Law Group has helped countless men and women cut the cord and begin over. Contact us to discuss your options.

You Can’t Get Remarried if You Legally Separate

This is a key difference. With a divorce, your marriage no longer exists. You are free to marry again, if you choose. With a legal separation, however, the marriage remains in effect even if you are no longer living together or romantically involved in any way. Since Washington doesn’t allow bigamy, you can’t take another trip down the aisle until you are divorced or your spouse dies.

You Must Wait Longer for a Divorce

Washington has a mandatory 90-day waiting period for divorce. The clock starts when you file your petition for dissolution. By contrast, there is no waiting period for legal separation.

Of course, this difference might not mean much. The practicalities of scheduling court hearings and working with lawyers means you might end up waiting 90 days (or more) for your separation to go through.

You Can Still Qualify for Spousal Benefits with Legal Separation

Some benefits are available only for spouses:

  • Health insurance
  • Social Security
  • Certain pension benefits

You can receive these benefits if you are legally separated because you are still married in the eyes of the law. Conversely, you might lose important benefits if you divorce.

You Can Still Inherit from Your Spouse if Legally Separated

Being married matters when your spouse dies. If you divorced, then any gift to you in a will would be automatically revoked. Also any designation that your spouse will serve as a personal representative gets revoked.

You might think you can get legally separated and then just change your will. Actually, that probably won’t work. Washington is a community property state, and your spouse is entitled to his or her share of community property. Your spouse might also receive a share of your separate property if you legally separate instead of divorce. If inheritance issues are key for you, then you might want to go ahead and divorce.

Why Choose Legal Separation?

Given all of the above, you might be surprised that people choose legal separation. What is their reasoning?

In our experience, some people refuse to divorce because of cultural, religious, or family reasons. If they have children, it might be important to them to remain married even if they live apart.

For others, legal separation is a trial run for divorce. With legal separation, you can set up a custody schedule, child support, and other orders. It creates an orderly process for two people to uncouple their lives –all while remaining married.

Interested in Legal Separation or Divorce?

Alliance Law Group can help you think about your options. There is no one right choice for all couples. We provide our clients with the information they need to make thoughtful choices. Call us today to learn more.