When a marriage relationship ends in Missouri, spouses have two different options they can pursue: legal separation and dissolution of marriage (divorce). Many people think legal separation is an easier temporary process than going through a full dissolution of marriage, but that is not exactly accurate. In fact, the two processes are virtually identical because all the same issues must be decided in either proceeding– division of property and debts, maintenance, custody, and child support.

However, there are a few important distinctions between legal separation and divorce. The main legal distinction is that after a legal separation, the parties are still married, which means that neither party can remarry, and if one spouse passes away, the other would still have inheritance rights as the spouse of the deceased. Another distinction between legal separation and divorce is that while a Judgment of Legal Separation can be set aside by the judge if requested by both parties, a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage cannot be set aside. Additionally, a Judgment of Legal Separation can be converted into a Judgment of Legal Dissolution. Once 90 days have passed since the judge has entered the Judgment of Legal Separation, either party can file a motion to convert the Judgment of Legal Separation into a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.

One might choose a legal separation over a divorce because it offers certain benefits to the parties that a divorce might not. For example, because a legal separation can be effectively undone by setting aside the Judgment, a legal separation might be a good option for parties that anticipate they might reconcile their relationship in the future. Also, legal separation may be a good option for parties that desire to stay legally married to one another for religious, retirement, Social Security, or health insurance reasons. Anyone considering a legal separation to remain covered under a spouse’s health insurance should look to the specific health insurance policy terms to determine how that policy treats a legal separation.

If you are considering a legal separation rather than a divorce, you should reach out to a lawyer to discuss your options and any potential advantages offered by legal separation.

The choice of a lawyer is an important one and should not be based solely on advertisements.