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Difference Between Separation and Divorce

When things go wrong in a relationship, couples may decide to either separate or divorce. However, separation and divorce aren’t the same things, and knowing what makes the two different is very important. 

Both effectively involve the end of the relationship, but whereas separation is simply physical and emotional in nature, divorce also involves a legal aspect, the complete dissolution of a legal marriage. Let’s figure out what the difference between separation and divorce is.

What is Separation? 

When a married couple makes the decision to live separately, but remain married in a legal sense, this is known as separation. Separation can be informal in nature, which means that a couple can decide to live in separate locations without any kind of legal agreement or formal process. It could simply mean that the two start living separately. 

There could be some kind of mutual agreement reached, such as about child custody, financial needs, and how assets will be divided, but the marriage itself is not legally ended in the eyes of the state. As far as the state and the tax bureau are concerned, a separation does not mean that a couple is legally no longer together. A couple who is separated cannot remarry.

What is Divorce?

A divorce on the other hand is a formal and legal process performed by a legal court, where a marriage is officially dissolved in the eyes of the state. A divorce also lays the ground for legal settlement about issues such as child custody, alimony, the division of assets, and other such factors. 

These are legal agreements which both parties must follow once the agreement has been made and the divorce has been finalized. While a divorce also involves the separation of the couple, it’s more than just physical and emotional, and involves a legal aspect.

Similarities Between Separation and Divorce

Here is what makes separation and divorce similar.

They Involve Separation

The most obvious similarity between the two is that they both involve living separately. The couple no longer wants to be together, and now live in separate locations.

They May Be a Part of the Same Process

What often happens is that separation occurs before a divorce. A couple may choose to separate long before they choose to officially file a divorce. This could be due to a want to possibly reconciliate, or simply because divorce proceedings take quite some time in some cases.

They Change Family Dynamics

Another defining of separation and divorce both is that they change family dynamics. If there are children involved, parents must then figure out who gets custody of the children, or who looks after them for the majority of the time, and must also decide on financial issues surrounding the children.

They Involve Similar Issues

Whether the marriage is formally dissolved or not, both did voice and separation address fairly similar issues, such as spousal support, child custody, and how assets are divided.

A Possibility for Reconciliation

A couple mattresses separate just to get some time apart, which means that there is a chance for reconciliation period separated couples may get back together after a certain amount of time.

Differences Between Separation and Divorce 

Here is what makes separation and divorce different. 

Legal Status

The main difference between separation and divorce is that a separation is simply physical and emotional in nature, whereas a divorce is legal. A divorce legally dissolves a marriage, whereas A separation does not. This also means that a couple that is just separated cannot remarry, whereas a divorced couple can remarry.

Financial Obligations

When a couple chooses to separate, there are generally no legal means that can be taken to determine financial obligations. Legally binding financial obligations can usually only be set in place when a marriage is formally dissolved through divorce.

Religious Beliefs

What some people may not realize is that in some cultures divorce is highly frowned upon. It may be the case that a couple chooses to separate instead of divorce simply because they do not want the rest of the community to view them in a negative light.


The other main difference here is that a couple that is divorced has almost zero chance of reconciling, whereas separated couples stand a far higher chance.

Difference Between Separation and Divorce

Summary of Differences Between Separation and Divorce

The main difference between separation and divorce is that separation is simply emotional and physical in nature, whereas divorce involves a legal aspect, the legal dissolution of a marriage period if a couple is just separated, they are still viewed as being legally bonded by the law, whereas a divorced couple is no longer bound by the law. A couple buddies just separated cannot legally remarried, whereas divorced people can.


Why do people separate but not divorce?

Many can live apart, but not divorce for various reasons. Usually, this choice is affected by emotional, financial, legal, and cultural elements. Some couples may look for reconciliation and separation might be just a temporary measure to sort out their problems.

In short, separation without actual divorce gives people the opportunity to withdraw and look back at their relationship, and consequently, make a more conscious choice on their future while not immediate divorce.

How long should separation last?

The length of a separation may significantly differ depending on the couple’s specific situations and aims. There is no universal solution to this problem, since the optimal length of separation is determined by the causes for it and the objectives of the people concerned.

Other than the duration, it is the legal factors that can also affect it as some jurisdictions require a separation period before one can be declared divorced.

Should I get divorced or separated?

Separateness gives chance for thinking and self-development, the result of which may be reconciliation. Still, if the relationship is destroyed with no wish of reconciliation by either party, divorce would be a wise decision where both individuals will be allowed to legally and emotionally move on with their lives.

What is the difference between divorced and separated in Canada?

In Canada, the difference between being divorced and separated is significant in terms of legal status and implications. Separation occurs when a couple decides to live apart and may involve negotiating. 

In Canada, between divorce and separation there is a difference that is huge, and this difference is legal and status-wise. Spouses confine themselves in a separate space from each other and they resolve their differences via finances arrangement, property distribution, and child custodial issues, but the marriage is still legal.

What not to do during a separation?

Separation can be a difficult and challenging situation to deal with, and here are a few things you should avoid as these can further complicate the legal aspects of the separation and any subsequent hearing. Firstly, do not make the decision to withdraw or to change your financial positions without agreement which would affect both parties.

This could mean jointly selling of land or co-ownership of property and making heavy purchases. Besides staying away from negative communications or actions of that sort, it is also important to try not to hurt the relationship even more, especially if the priority is getting back with the partner. 

Getting into new relationships can be difficult when it comes to emotional manipulations and legal procedures.

Therefore, failing to utilize a professional agreement that specifies the terms of the separation such as dividing assets, child custody and alimony leads to miscommunication and confusion in the future.

Is it OK to separate but not divorce?

Some couples might remain separated, but they are still not divorced, they might choose this way depending on the reason and goals they have. Such a relationship format will provide the couple the confidence and time handle matters concerning personal or relationship issues, while still giving the chance for the reconciliation. 

It also brings about some practical benefits such as finding monetary relief or maintaining family settlement which is more prevalent where children are involved. Even though, expectations of both spouses should be clearly communicated, and conditions of separation may be set, preferably with legal advisor consultancy.

Do I have to support my wife during separation?

The right to financially support a spouse during separation depends on numerous factors including the territory where you are, as well as on the particularities of your case.

Often, spousal support is required either by law or through custom, especially for the cases where one spouse earns more than the other or when the dependent spouse has relied on the other financially.

The terms of financial assistance should be described in a support consent, which may include information about the amount, duration, and the type of support. Legal support would be just as essential as understanding and carrying out these responsibilities.

What happens if you stay married but separated?

The process of being married but separating the living spaces can be interpreted in different ways based on the method utilized by the couple in the arrangement. In the legal standpoint they remain husband and wife and as such they will have the benefits of marital law unless otherwise a separation agreement will specify it.

This may alter financial decisions, whether you can inherit as well as taxes. Parents of children sometimes reach a mutually agreeable solution in terms of custody and child support.

Emotions and social consequences are also raised by the process, as individuals deal with their intimate relationship that could result in new romantic partners and yet are obliged to stay married. It’s a sophisticated design with the need for a high level of clarity and legal support to manage it properly.

Is it cheating if you are separated?

Whether it is cheating or not if you were separated is the question which is decided largely by the agreements the separated parties made and their own views on the issues of fidelity.

Legally, the marital relationship is not dissolved, just separated. Consequently, some regions state that this can be considered adultery and may influence divorce proceedings, especially if fault is a factor on the divorce settlement.

Nevertheless, some couples that have already separated, unanimously agree to date others while they try and come to terms with the situation. Effective communication and mutual comprehension of what boundaries are tolerable during the time apart is necessary to handle delicate matters.


The bottom line is that separated couples are not yet legally divorced, and the marriage itself is still legal, although they are no longer living together in both situations. 

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MADA4zb0Mvs-divorce-and-marital-separation-family-law-concept/

[1]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAFFlYg8Yvs-silhouette-symbol-child-custody-law-proceedings-divorce-mediation-legal-separation-/

[2]D'Onofrio, B., & Emery, R. (2019). Parental divorce or separation and children's mental health. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 18(1), 100–101. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20590

[3]Stephenson, E., & DeLongis, A. (2019). A 20-year prospective study of marital separation and divorce in stepfamilies: Appraisals of family stress as predictors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(6), 1600-1618. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407518768445

[4]Brüning, M. (2022). Separations of romantic relationships are experienced differently by initiators and noninitiators. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(23). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2020901119

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