Making the decision to end a marriage can be one of the most difficult times of a person’s life. It can also be one of the most confusing.
From the legal jargon to the paperwork, there are myriad responsibilities you’ll be tasked with navigating. Unless you’re aware of the intricacies, what should be a relatively straightforward procedure could become vastly more complicated.
One of the points of contention might be understanding your options. You may be wondering what the difference is between divorce vs separation vs annulment.
Ending a marriage is ending a marriage, right? Why so many terms for it?
Today, we’re breaking down a few key characteristics of each of those options, so you can better classify which one your case falls into.
Ready to learn more? Let’s go!
Divorce vs Separation: What’s the Difference?
Let’s start simple. A divorce is the legal dissolution of marriage.
Your legal duties to your spouse will be either terminated or reorganized depending on your situation. When the process is complete, both parties are free to remarry.
There are two basic types of divorce. They include:
This occurs when the spouse filing for the divorce does so without blaming the other person for any specific wrongdoing. Rather, they simply claim one of these three grounds:
- Irremediable breakdown
- Irreconcilable differences
- Loss of affection
Allowed by some states, this occurs when there is a specific reason prompting the divorce. These reasons could include:
- Abuse or domestic violence
- Substance abuse
Before filing for divorce, some married couples might opt to undergo a trial separation first. There are two types of separations:
Separation by Agreement
When it comes to divorce vs separation, it’s important to understand that separation does not legally end a marriage. Rather, it just means that you and your spouse do not live together for a period of time.
This is commonly referred to as “separation by agreement.”
You’re not required by law to even live with your spouse under the same roof in the first place, so you don’t need to file with the court system to begin a separation. You will, however, need to work out any child care, bill payments, and other support issues beforehand so all parties know what’s expected of them. A family practice lawyer or mediator can help you work through these issues to make sure everything is covered.
In many cases, a trial separation period is the first step toward pursuing a divorce, though this is not always the case.
Some states allow you to take your separation a step farther and apply for legal, or judicial separation.
If you’re ready for your separation to result in a major change to your marital status, you’ll need to file for a legal separation. You can do so by petitioning to a lawyer at your local Superior or Family Division Court.
During this period, you’ll live apart from your spouse on a separate property. Living under the same roof while sleeping in separate beds is not permissible.
A legal separation can last as long as a divorce (around 8 to 10 months), so be sure to plan accordingly. During this time, you and your spouse will be prohibited from marrying or beginning a domestic partnership with anyone else. Wives cannot resume their maiden names yet.
If you have minor children, you’ll iron out details around final custody and visitation rights as required. Alimony orders can come into play at this time as well.
With so much to deal with, you may question why anyone would go through the hassle of filing a legal separation over just going ahead and filing for divorce. This is because some religious or moral beliefs might make couples eschew the legal dissolution of their marriage. Thus, divorce vs separation becomes an even more conflicting and polarizing discussion in these cases.
How Does Annulment Fit In?
Let’s add another term to the mix. You may associate “annulment” with those flash-in-the-pan, 15-minute celebrity marriages, but it’s a relatively common process.
Unlike a divorce, which recognizes that a marriage occurred and then nullifies it, an annulment essentially treats the union like it never existed in the first place. Once the process is complete, each party is free to marry someone else.
The court system will determine how an annulment affects child custody, child support, matrimony, and asset division.
A couple has grounds for filing for an annulment if the marriage was:
- The result of force or fraudulent pretenses
- Occurred as a result of physical or mental incapacity
- Inclusive of at least one underage party
- Entered into while one spouse was already in a marriage or registered domestic partnership
- Entered into while under the influence
Annulments are usually administered to couples who haven’t been married for too long (think just weeks or months). This helps reduce the headache of dividing assets and figuring up child support.
Making Sense of the Journey Apart
Working through these issues with your significant other can be a difficult time. You’re likely feeling a ton of emotions, from grief to anxiety and everything in between.
This is where we come in.
We’re a family law practice skilled in helping people just like you understand their legal rights and make sense of the road ahead of them. From helping you understand divorce vs separation vs annulment and every legal decision in between, we’re your go-to resource.
The journey doesn’t have to be complicated, confusing or chaotic. Contact us today and let’s take that important first step together.