Your Legal Rights at Work

Separation Vs. Divorce: The Major Differences

by Lewis Hamilton

A legal separation may seem like the end of your marriage, just like a divorce, but the two are different. Below are some of the major differences between separation and divorce:

Spousal Benefits

Some of the benefits that spouses enjoy due to their marital relationship stop after a divorce but not after a separation. Classic examples are health and tax benefits. You won't be able to file joint tax returns if you divorce your spouse. You also won't benefit from your partner's health insurance after your divorce. However, both benefits are available to separated spouses.

Decision Making

Laws allow you to make some decisions on behalf of each other if you are married. For example, if your spouse goes into a coma after an accident, you can make medical decisions on their behalf. You can decide which experimental treatment to consent to on behalf of your partner. You can also manage your partner's financial assets if they are unable to do so. The situation changes if you divorce, but not if you separate.

Debt Liability

Assets and debts are divided during a divorce. After the divorce is finalized, each spouse becomes responsible for specific debts. This means a divorce puts a stop to shared debts. However, reconciliation doesn't affect such liabilities, and you will still be both responsible for your marital or family debts.


If you are thinking of remarrying, then divorce is what you need, not a separation. A divorce ends your marriage and makes you eligible for remarriage — at least as far as the law is concerned. However, even after a separation, you are still a married person. Marrying another person while you are separated from your partner will attract the wrath of the law.

Inheritance Rights

The inheritance rights that spouses enjoy from each other also end after a divorce. Marriage gives you the right to inherit your partner's property, at least some of it. This is the case even if your spouse doesn't include you in their last will and testament. This right doesn't end with legal separation, but it ends with divorce.


Lastly, the process of reconciliation is also different for divorced and separated spouses. If you want to get back together after a divorce, then you have to get married again. However, you can just get back together without further legal processes after your separation. This makes sense if you remember that a divorce ends your marriage, but a separation does not. 

Talk to a divorce lawyer to learn more about divorce law.