What is the difference between divorce and a legal separation regarding benefits?

UPDATED: Jun 8, 2011

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What is the difference between divorce and a legal separation regarding benefits?

I’m in the crossroads of not knowing what’s better to do – a legal separation or divorce. I’ve heard that during a legal separation I can keep military insurance and that’s very important but at the same time I have no desire to continue my marriage. Could you please explain what’s the difference? In which case can I get better financial support?

Asked on June 8, 2011 under Family Law, Michigan


MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

A legal separation is wherein you still have a legal marriage but you are living separate and apart with no possibility of reconciliation. A divorce is the end of the marriage -- wherein a court of law essentially creates an order dissolving your marriage. The difference is really pure semantics because in many states once you are legally separated, your individual assets earned thereafter are considered separate property. What would be better for you would depend on what you are seeking and whether your benefits earned or shared will terminate upon a legal separation or not until a divorce. Of course, this is all subject to negotiation, as well. While you may not be entitled to certain benefits, you might be able to negotiate them as alimony or shared assets (retirement, health insurance). The success of the negotiation is based on what you seek, that state's statutes and case law, if you have children, and how long you have been married.

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