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What is the difference between a legal separation and divorce?

If you and your spouse are struggling to maintain your marriage, you may be evaluating your options to improve the situation. Legal separation and divorce are two legal ways to begin leading your life independently. However, the two options are so similar that people are often confused about what exactly each action does.

Divorce and legal separation are similar

In Missouri, divorce is called a dissolution of marriage. This process can involve dividing marital property, determining a custody arrangement for children, awarding child support and awarding spousal maintenance.

Legal separation can also involve dividing marital property, determining a custody arrangement for children, awarding child support and awarding spousal maintenance. However, it does not end the marriage.

Each situation is unique

Because it does not end your marriage, legal separation may be an appropriate option if you and your spouse feel there is an honest chance of reconciliation, and you want to live separately while working out some of the challenges you face in your marriage. A legal separation may also be an attractive option to couples who may want to remain married for religious reasons or insurance reasons.

However, if you believe your marriage is irretrievably broken, it may be more appropriate to seek divorce. It is also important to note that you will only be able to enter another marriage after your current marriage has legally ended.

Legal separation can be less permanent than divorce

Another consideration is that it is generally more difficult to change your mind after a divorce than it is after a legal separation. A judge can set aside a Judgement of Legal Separation if you and your spouse decide to get back together. On the other hand, if you and your spouse receive a legal separation and later decide you would prefer to end the marriage, the judgement can be converted into a Judgement of Dissolution of marriage after 90 days of separation. You cannot set aside a Judgement of Dissolution of Marriage or turn it into a legal separation.

If you and your spouse are unhappy in your marriage, you have options. Either divorce or legal separation may be an appropriate decision depending on your unique situation. However, the decision to end your marriage or legally separate from your spouse is ultimately a personal decision.

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