Legal Separation - What Exactly Does It Mean?


Area of Law: 

Legal Separation by definition is "a legal process by which a married couple may form a ‘de facto’ separation" while remaining married.” A legal separation can be granted in the form of a court order or a legally binding consent decree.


Many decisions have to be made during a legal separation. Some are financial and others concern the welfare of any children that the couple may have. The financial aspects of a legal separation come into play with regard to decisions concerning how bill payments will be handled and which spouse, if any, will pay temporary financial support. Furthermore, if a couple owns any property, the ownership of that as well as any additional assets will also be discussed.


Children are often another major aspect of legal separations. Temporary arrangements can be made for the care/custody and financial support of any children involved, and visitation schedules can be coordinated. If a spouse wants to file for permanent custody of the children, a child custody document can be filed as part of the court order.


There are many justifications that can warrant the filing of a legal separation. First, an individual’s religious concerns may play a part. Some religions object to divorce, so a couple may opt for a legal separation in lieu of a divorce to try to amend the situation so as not to go against their faith. Second, there may be insurance issues that need to be worked out. A wife who has shared a health care plan with her husband may want the continued coverage from her husband’s insurance, or vice versa. Also, since getting a divorce is a big decision, couples may be unsure about whether that is what they really want to do. Therefore, they may decide to go through a trial separation or a divorce waiting period so that they can become absolutely certain about their feelings. 


With a trial separation, a couple believes that there is hope for reconciliation, but the parties involved need to spend some time apart from each other first. During which time, formal arrangements are made to address child support, custody, spousal support, and property distribution. In many states, it is required for couples to endure a divorce waiting period. 

Under this jurisdiction, couples must wait the length of time that is mandated by the state before they can proceed with getting a divorce. 


Divorce and legal separation are two separate terms that each have a different meaning. A legal separation does not terminate a marriage like a divorce does. With a legal separation, a couple remains legally married while living separate and apart. Another difference between the two terms is that in the case of a legal separation, a court order outlines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse while they are living apart from one another.


If you live in the state of Pennsylvania, you may be wondering does my state recognize a legal separation? The answer to this question is no. Pennsylvania does not uphold legal separations. According to Pennsylvania law, separation simply means that a couple is no longer living together. Also, a separation may occur either by mutual consent or by one partner leaving or being expelled from the home.