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What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?

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Quick Answer

While a divorce is a permanent end to a marriage, a legal separation allows couples to remain married despite living separately, according to About.com. Couples can file joint taxes and maintain joint health insurance and military benefits when legally separated.

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When legally separated, couples acquire a court order outlining the responsibilities and rights of each spouse, according to About.com. The court order is binding, and it typically outlines a division of assets and debts, child custody and child support, spousal support and visitation or custody schedules, similar to agreements entered upon divorce. However, with a legal separation, this court order can be dissolved or changed if the couple chooses to reunite, whereas, with a divorce, the order is permanent and ends the marriage.

Couples can typically maintain health insurance together when legally separated but not when divorced. However, some employers treat a legal separation in the same way as a divorce when it comes to benefits, according to divorce analyst Jeff Landers, a Forbes contributor.

Some couples choose to obtain a legal separation to remain married due to religious beliefs, states Landers. Whereas a divorce may violate a couple's morals or values, a legal separation allows couples to live separately while keeping the legal bonds of the marriage.

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