Legal Separation or Divorce – Which should you choose?

Request a call from a family law solicitor


Deciding to part ways with a spouse is never an easy decision to make. In England and Wales, couples facing marital difficulties have the option to choose between a legal separation or divorce.

Legal separation and divorce are both significant legal processes that address the dissolution of a marital relationship, each with distinct legal and practical implications. While both procedures aim to outline the responsibilities and rights of each spouse, they differ in terms of their outcomes and the legal status of the marriage.

Understanding the differences, processes, and implications of each choice is crucial for anyone navigating this challenging time. Expert Family Law aims to provide clarity on divorce proceedings, legal separation, and the role of separation agreements, with a focus on family law.

How is a divorce defined?

Divorce formally ends a marriage or civil partnership, allowing both parties to remarry or enter into a new civil partnership if they wish. The divorce process begins when one partner files a divorce petition, stating that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

To qualify for a divorce, couples must have been legally married for at least one year. Divorce proceedings involve several stages, including the filing of legal documents, potential court hearings, and the final decree absolute, which officially dissolves the marriage.

What is legal separation?

For couples who wish to live separately without ending their marriage or civil partnership, a judicial separation can be an appropriate option. Unlike divorce, judicial separation does not dissolve the marriage but acknowledges that the couple is no longer living together as a married couple.

This option is often chosen for religious reasons, where divorce might not be permitted, or when a couple has not been married for one year and thus cannot file for divorce. A judicial separation allows for financial arrangements to be made and can be a precursor to divorce.

What are the differences between a divorce and legal separation?

Divorce and legal separation share several similarities:

  • You are not required to continue living together.
  • The Court can divide your financial assets (excluding pensions).
  • If your spouse is named as a beneficiary in your will, the will becomes invalid unless you create a new will specifically naming your spouse as a beneficiary.

However, there are key differences between divorce and judicial separation:

  • Once you get a divorce, your marriage is legally over. Whereas with a legal separation, you remain married.
  • You can remarry after a divorce is finalised. You cannot remarry after a judicial separation.
  • In England and Wales, you are required to wait until you’ve been married for at least one year to apply for a divorce. You can apply for a legal separation at any time.
  • The court is able to split a pension during divorce but cannot use these powers for judicial separation.

What is a separation agreement?

A separation agreement is a written document that outlines the arrangements a couple agrees to live by during their separation. This includes financial provisions, child arrangements, property division, and any other relevant matters.

While not legally binding in the same way as court orders, a separation agreement can be a helpful way to establish clear expectations and reduce conflicts during separation.

Family law solicitors often assist in drafting these agreements to ensure they meet legal standards and fully protect the interests of both parties.

How can Expert Family Law assist?

The family law solicitors on our panel provide expert legal advice and assistance to help you decide between legal separation or divorce.

Please note that we are not a firm of solicitors. We have a panel of family law firms who we may pass your case on to for a fee. Expert Family Law will not charge you, the client, for our service of passing on your case.

We ensure our panel firms have the skills and experience required to assist with your legal case. We can assure you that your case will be dealt with in a compassionate and understanding manner.

Each solicitor we work with is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Get in touch today using the form at the top of the page to find out if a solicitor from our panel could help with your case.


Divorce Proceedings

Ancillary Relief

Domestic Abuse

Child arrangements

Expert Family Law

Keep up to date with the latest family law news