Legal Separation vs. Divorce

patrickcrawford | April 15, 2024

The word divorce can conjure up some conflicting emotions for those who are considering leaving their marriage. In some states, a legal separation is a way for couples to take a legal leave from their marriage without officially going through a full divorce. This is often a gray area that results in an eventual divorce after couples who have been separated for a length of time while sorting through dividing all of their financial logistics, setting up child custody arrangements, and securing a new living situation. 


Whether you are considering a divorce or living apart, consult an Annapolis divorce attorney right away. 


What is the Difference Between a Divorce and a Legal Separation? 

A legal separation is an alternative to a divorce and may look very similar with one major difference, the couple is still legally married and therefore, cannot remarry. Often, couples will opt to go this route because of philosophical and religious beliefs or because they want to test out a divorce before fully committing. Other times, a legal separation is a way for one spouse to stay on the insurance plan of their working partner. 


While the state of Maryland has never recognized a “legal separation.” At one time, the state offered a similar term, “limited divorce,” to indicate a similar situation. In a limited divorce, couples were still legally married, but they typically lived apart, and a judge could determine decisions on child custody, property division, alimony, and more. As of October of 2023, a limited divorce is no longer an option in Maryland, but obtaining a full divorce is a bit easier than it has been in the past. 


Separation Before Divorce in Maryland 

Although a legal separation or limited divorce is not an option in Maryland, there is a six-month separation period required for those who are seeking a divorce. This can be a bit confusing as divorcing spouses can technically still live in the same house. So what exactly does this six month separation mean and what is the purpose? 


Essentially, the court is looking to see that you practiced living separate and independent lives for six months before a divorce is granted. This shows that the couple is pursuing separate lives and gives them time to determine whether they want to move forward with a divorce after six months or opt to reconcile. Some couples are certain that a divorce is inevitable, but others simply need the extra time to separate, re-evaluate their situation, and come back together after a trial separation. The court wants to give couples time to figure out which option is best for them. 


Defining Legal Separation in Maryland

There is no specific definition of a legal separation in the state of Maryland. That said, the courts will require that you maintain a six-month separation from your spouse before officially filing for a divorce. This means that you and your spouse will have lived separate and apart from one another for six months. You can still live in the same house but must show that you have pursued separate lives. Your Maryland divorce attorney can help to define this in-depth and outline a plan to show the courts that you have been separated for six months. 

Defining Divorce in Maryland

The definition of a divorce in Maryland is a legal process that officially ends a marriage. The court will issue a divorce decree that declares that the marriage is no longer valid. Divorce also usually requires that the couple resolve any issues related to the division of assets, property, debts, alimony, and child custody. 

When you file for a divorce, you will need to state the grounds for the request. There are three reasons that you can give the court as grounds when you are filing for a divorce in Maryland. These include:

  • A six-month separation 
  • Mutual consent from both parties
  • Irreconcilable differences

Additionally, at least one person in the couple requesting a divorce must be a resident of the state of Maryland in order to file with the Maryland courts. 


Key Differences Between Legal Separation and Divorce

While the state of Maryland no longer officially recognizes a legal separation, or limited divorce as of 2023, some couples opt to remain separated but married for a variety of reasons. This could be based on religious beliefs, insurance benefits, and more. With a limited divorce, or legal separation, a judge could make decisions about things such as child custody and property division. 

Today, the key difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that when a couple remains legally married, regardless of how long they have been separated, they are unable to remarry until they are officially divorced. 

How Children Are Affected: Custody and Support

The court can be involved if you opt for a divorce. However, a separation is not an official judicial determination. With a separation, you and your spouse can work with your respective family law attorneys or a mediator, if necessary, to come up with a separation agreement that outlines your child custody agreement and spousal support. 

Property Division in Legal Separation Vs. Divorce

Likewise, with a separation, the court does not interfere with decisions between you and your spouse, therefore you will need to mutually agree on how property is divided. 

When to Choose Separation Over Divorce

 A separation typically requires open communication and a good relationship between two partners. A divorce is often the right option for couples who are unable to come to a mutual agreement on important decisions regarding children and finances. In this situation, the court can help to decide these matters when you file for a divorce.

Always discuss your options with an Annapolis divorce attorney. 


Speak with an Annapolis Family Law & Divorce Attorney Today

If you are considering or have begun the separation process it is helpful to speak with a knowledgeable divorce attorney to learn more about your options. Patrick Crawford Law is dedicated to helping those who are struggling with questions around divorce. This is often a heavy, emotional, and confusing time and it is advisable to talk with someone who can help and understands the legal process. 


Reach out to Patrick Crawford Law today to schedule a free initial consultation. Please contact us online for more information. 

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