If you have decided not to live with your spouse anymore, you can either opt for legal separation or for a divorce. Both options have their pros and cons, but there are key differences between them you need to know. Here are some of the factors most affected by these differences:
By definition, getting a divorce means that your marriage is legally over; that is, you are single as far as the law is concerned. This means that you are also free to marry another person. If you are legally separated, however, you are still legally married too, and you cannot marry another person. Notice that marriage to multiple partners is still illegal in all 50 states.
If you rely on your partner's health insurance plan, then those benefits will terminate when you divorce. Sure, you may be able to remain on the plan for a short while after divorce as you transition to your own plan, but you eventually have to give it up. This is different from the case of legal separation where you are allowed to retain your partner's health benefits for as long as you remain legally separated.
You should also know that legal separation preserves your property rights and you are free to inherit your partner's assets in case they die when you are still separated. However, once you are divorced, you lose the right to inherit to your partner, and you may only inherit from your partner if they specifically named you in their estate plans.
If you have opted for legal separation or divorce, then you should know that any debts incurred during your separation period will still be your joint responsibility. This is dangerous because you may not be able to monitor your partner's borrowing behavior when you are separated. They may incur huge bills on a flashy lifestyle only for you to be forced to pay some of them later on. The divorce option, however, ensures that each person is responsible for their own debts thereafter.
Lastly, you should know that divorce is a permanent and irreversible thing. Once you are divorced, you can't go back to court and ask them to undo it and let you revert to your married life. However, a legal separation can be terminated at any time; it is not a permanent status.
As a rule, legal separation is only useful as a temporary measure or for those who are yet to make up their minds. However, if you have decided on a permanent break from your spouse, its best to consult a divorce attorney and get it over with.