When a couple decides that their marriage is no longer working, they need to consider whether a legal separation or a divorce is the best outcome for them. While both options involve a formal legal process and address similar issues, they are not the same thing. In Arizona, there are distinct differences between legal separation and divorce, which should be carefully considered before making a decision.

What is Legal Separation?

Legal separation is a court-approved agreement between a couple to live separately while still legally married. This means that the couple will no longer live together, but they will not be divorced. Legal separation requires the couple to divide their assets, develop a parenting plan, child support, and spousal maintenance – all the very same tasks required for divorce, except the parties remain married and as such, they are not free to remarry. Oftentimes, a legal separation is for people who still love each other but fight about money or do not work together in their spending and earning habits. A legal separation can bring relief if money and earnings are the problems in the marriage.

What is Divorce?

Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage. In Arizona, divorce proceedings require the couple to divide their property, determine legal decision-making for children, establish child support, and spousal maintenance, if applicable. All the same tasks as a legal separation, except the end result is the people are now also single and when the divorce is finalized, both parties are free to remarry.

In short, divorce is the legal termination of a marriage, while legal separation creates a financial and physical separation from your spouse while maintaining the legal status of being married.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Legal Separation and Divorce

When deciding between legal separation and divorce in Arizona, several factors need to be considered. These factors include:

  1. Future plans: Couples who may want to reconcile in the future may choose legal separation as it allows them to remain legally married.
  2. Ability to remarry: In order for either spouse to marry someone else, the couple must finalize their divorce.
  3. Religious or cultural beliefs: Some religions and cultures prohibit divorce, and legal separation may be the only option for couples who want to live separately.
  4. Health insurance: Legal separation may allow one spouse to remain on the other’s health insurance plan, while divorce does not. Please check with your insurer to see if they cover legally separated people. 
  5. Taxes: Legal separation may allow a couple to continue filing their taxes jointly, while divorce requires them to file separately.
  6. Property division: In Arizona, legal separation and divorce proceedings follow the same property division rules, but if a couple is legally separated, they cannot receive survivor benefits from the other spouse’s Social Security.

Deciding between legal separation and divorce is a personal and complex decision that should be made after careful consideration. While both options allow a couple to live separately, they have different legal implications. 

divorce-mediation-McMurdie Law and MediationMediation for Divorce or Legal Separation

Arizona law allows spouses to complete their entire legal separation or divorce process in mediation, avoiding the combative litigation that accompanies most divorces. Mediation for legal separation and divorce is straightforward, more affordable, and can sometimes be completed in as little as two months.

If you are considering legal separation or divorce in Arizona, it’s essential to have an experienced legal team on your side. McMurdie Law and Mediation can help navigate the complexities of the legal process and ensure your rights are protected. Contact us today at (480) 777-5500 to schedule a consultation and let us help you move forward with confidence.