What’s the Difference Between Divorce & Legal Separation?

It is common for marriages to fail. Even couples with the best intentions discover they cannot live together. In fact, Florida has the third-highest rate of divorce in the United States at 13%.

Although some couples will immediately pursue a dissolution of the marriage, others may simply begin living in separate households with separate lives. If you have been considering ending your marriage or if your spouse has, how do you decide what path to pursue?

There is no single answer to this question because every marriage is different. Instead, you need to explore your options and choose what makes sense for you and your children. Family law attorney David W. Veliz can help.

David W. Veliz has been guiding clients through family law legal issues in Orlando and throughout Central Florida, including Kissimmee, Winter Park, and Maitland, for more than 25 years. If you need to understand the differences between divorce and separation, here are a few things you should know.

What Is Divorce in Florida?

Divorce in Florida is the legal process by which a couple dissolves a marriage. At the end of the process, they are no longer married and are free to pursue not only separate lives but to remarry as well.

Florida is a no-fault divorce state which means the grounds for divorce is that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Adultery or other marriage misbehavior is not grounds for divorce; however, they may be considered in the court’s deliberations regarding child custody or alimony.

Florida law provides for simplified or traditional dissolution of marriage. You may qualify for simplified dissolution if you share no minor children, you agree to the division of marital property and debts, neither of you are seeking alimony, and both of you agree to this expedited process in which you give up your right to a trial or appeal.

In a traditional divorce, the spouse filing for dissolution is the petitioner and the other, the respondent. The respondent is served with the divorce petition and has a certain amount of time to file an answer to the petition. If both spouses can agree to marital property and debt agreements, child custody, and child support agreements, and to alimony if a spouse is seeking it, the process will take less time. If any of these issues are contested, there will be a trial, and the judge will render decisions. Naturally, a trial could take more time.

What Is Legal Separation in Florida?

In many states, couples can file for a legal separation instead of divorce. The process allows the court to enter orders regarding property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support. The couple will live as though divorced; however, they are still legally married and unable to marry someone else.

Florida law does not provide for legal separations, only dissolutions. Although couples can forge their own agreements regarding the aforementioned issues and can live separately, they are not court orders and therefore cannot be enforced. Florida couples can separate, but there is no “legal” process accessible to do so.

Divorce vs. Legal Separation in Florida

As you can see, the difference between divorce and legal separation primarily involves the legal status of the marriage. On the one hand, you begin living separate lives with either path, and both have advantages and disadvantages.

For example, if you do not believe in divorce, object to it on religious grounds, or worry about the stigma of being divorced, a separation may be a good option. On the other hand, those important issues such as child custody and support, divisions of assets and debts, and spousal support can only have legal authority in divorce. In fact, if you separate and then decide later to divorce, none of what you may have agreed to in separation may be approved by the court in a dissolution.

Moreover, everything you do while separated is still considered marital in the eyes of the law. For example, the debt one spouse incurs is still the responsibility of the other spouse. Property acquired by one spouse while separated may still be contested by the other spouse in a divorce. If one spouse stops making child support payments to the custodial spouse as agreed, there is no legal recourse to make them pay without going to court.

Separation may be suitable for some couples some of the time, but only with divorce is the law behind the terms of decoupling.

Skilled & Compassionate Counsel in Orlando, Florida

In 25 years of practice as a family law attorney, David W. Veliz has seen it all. He brings that experience and compassion for his clients to bear in every case. He is committed to providing all the information, insight, and guidance he can so they can make the best decision. If you need a divorce attorney in Orlando or throughout Central Florida, contact Veliz Katz Law now to schedule a case consultation.


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