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What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?

If your marriage has broken down, you may want to move ahead with getting divorced as soon as possible, but sometimes it can be helpful to have a period of legal separation before formally ending your marriage.

A legal separation can give you time to work on your relationship if you think your marriage can still be saved. Alternatively, it can act as a way of giving both parties certainty over practical arrangements, such as where you will live, while you work out the details of your divorce.

Depending on your circumstances, making a separation agreement instead of going straight for divorce may be worth considering, so it is always recommended to seek specialist legal advice on this issue if you are not yet ready for divorce.

The main differences between legal separation and a divorce

Divorce

If you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for at least a year and there has been a complete breakdown in your relationship, you can apply for a divorce. You must cite one of the 5 reasons for divorce which are:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • You have lived apart for more than 2 years and you both agree to divorce
  • You have lived apart for at least 5 years

There is a fee of £550 to initiate a divorce that is payable to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.  If you seek legal assistance, there will be additional costs on top of this. Once your divorce is finalised, you and your ex-partner are free to remarry or enter into a new civil partnership.

Legal separation

You may apply for a legal separation, also known as a judicial separation, instead of divorce, which allows you to live apart but remain legally married. You may wish to do this:

  • For religious reasons
  • To give yourself time and space to think about whether you want to proceed with a divorce or to seek counselling
  • Because you have been married less than a year, which is required for a divorce.

Unlike a divorce, you do not need to prove that the relationship has ‘irretrievably broken down’. It costs £365 to apply for a legal separation with no further costs. However, it is worth noting that should you wish to apply for a divorce at a later date, you will still be required to pay the £550 fee.

Another option for ending your marriage is to get an annulment, however this is only an option if the marriage is not legally valid, for example if one of you was already married or in a civil partnership, or you were forced to marry against your will, or if the marriage was not consummated. Although the fee for annulling your marriage is the same as getting a divorce, it is more complex, therefore it may be easier to opt for divorce in some situations.

What is a separation agreement?

A separation agreement is a written agreement that lays out certain arrangements for your separation. This can cover things like childcare arrangements, child maintenance payments, mortgage payments and division of major assets such as cars or furniture. Although not legally binding, a separation agreement can provide peace of mind for both partners as it can reduce conflict and can be used as evidence of your mutual agreement to end the relationship, should you eventually decide to divorce.

Whether you decide to get a divorce or to separate, Crisp & Co’s experience family lawyers can provide the right advice and support and ensure you get the best outcome for you and your family.

Find out how we can help by calling 020 3797 4952 or use the enquiry form below to request a call back.

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