Understanding the Differences of the Legal Separation vs. Dissolution

Couple relaxing on veranda, sitting on rail with backs to each other
Couple relaxing on veranda, sitting on rail with backs to each other

Sometimes its difficult to distinguish the  differences between a legal separation vs the dissolution.  Are they the same?

They are not the same, but both can provide couples with the division of asset and debt distribution; parenting plan; child support and spousal maintenance.

  • The key difference between legal separation and dissolution (divorce) is that when you are legally separated, you are still legally married to your spouse even though you are living separate and apart. If you later decide to get divorced, you’ll have to file for a motion and order to convert your legal separation decree into a decree of dissolution.

There are several reasons why people choose to be legally separate but remain married to one another, included but may not be limited to:

  • Religious reasons – one or both parties oppose a dissolution because of religious reasons
  • Benefits – one of the spouses is in need of benefits that cannot be continued if the parties are divorced, such as social security, health insurance or military benefits
  • Tax benefits – sometimes there is a tax relief for married persons vs filing single
  • Reconciliation – you and your spouse think there’s a chance you may reconcile after you’ve had time apart from one another
  • Property – Refinancing property into one of the parties names, where a decree is required for the property to transfer hands. A decree of legal separation can be obtained immediately, rather than waiting the 90 days from the date the petition is filed.

Washington State has statutory waiting periods before a decree can be entered.

  • Dissolution
    • The waiting period for decree to be obtained is 90 days after the Petition has been filed and the other party has been served or filed a joinder.
    • Affidavit or joinder must be filed with the Court
    • Both parties must sign all final documents
      • By Default
        • The other party was properly served and failed to appear
      • Legal Separation
        • The waiting period for decree can be obtained immediate after the Petition has been filed and the other party has signed the joinder
        • There is a waiting period of six months after the decree of legal separation has been obtained from the Court
        • A motion to convert to dissolution can be sought by either party, with notice to the other party
        • The decree of dissolution will be granted on the same terms identified in the decree of legal separation – no changes.

Premier Legal Technician Firm can provide you with the pros and cons for your certain circumstances.  Please contact us if you would like additional information.