Legal Separation or Divorce?

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For many clients who ask this question, a legal separation is just a pit stop on the road to divorce. However, some clients are not ready to divorce, and a legal separation allows them to cope with their family problems and try to reconcile before reaching the conclusion provided by a divorce. Depending on a client’s circumstances, a long-term legal separation may be a better option than getting a divorce. It is important to understand each option before making a decision.

Legal Separation

A typical characteristic of a legal separation is living apart and working as a couple to divide up assets and debts in a way that would be permanent in the case of divorce. A legal separation is different from a physical separation where the couple is no longer living together. The process is basically the same as a divorce except that you are pleading to the court that your marriage is not irretrievably broken and receiving a Judgment of Legal Separation at the conclusion of the case which can be converted to a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage after ninety days.

Not every legal separation is converted to a divorce. It is not unusual for a client to return requesting to convert to a divorce anywhere from ninety days to three years or so. Some clients do reconcile, return to a normal relationship status, and file a joint affidavit to set aside the Judgment of Legal Separation. Around ten percent of legally separated clients choose to remain legally separated indefinitely for religious or financial reasons.


The important characteristic of divorce is finality. It is a legal dissolution of a marriage and divides property and debt without the possibility of reconciliation. The divorce process can have long-term effects on finances, career, family structure, and the lifestyle of everyone involved. Due to this finality, it is important for a client to understand the seriousness of divorce and how it can affect the family’s healthcare coverage, retirement savings, and long-term securities investments that need to be split up and may have taxable consequences.

Main Difference

The main difference between a legal separation and divorce is that you remain married while legally separated. Until a married couple is divorced, they both must report that they are married on any financial form. This distinction means that legally separated couples can continue to benefit from their relationships, including Social Security and pension plans. Additionally, any child born to the legally separated couple will be assumed to be parented by both of them unless proven otherwise in a separate filing with the court.

Does Missouri Require a Legal Separation to Divorce

In some states, a couple must undergo a separation to obtain a divorce; however, Missouri does not require a separation period as a qualification to divorce. No matter what process you choose to do, you should surround yourself with people who can help you through the difficult process of ending a marriage. Consulting with a divorce attorney can help you explore the option of legal separation further. You could meet with a marriage counselor who can guide you and your spouse through the legal separation or reconciliation process. Additionally, you could meet with a therapist for individual counseling since the stress of either a legal separation or divorce can be a significant change in anyone’s life.

Should you need the advice of a divorce attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and discuss those issues with you.  


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