Legal Separation or Divorce – Which Should you Choose?

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

Divorce Proceedings

Divorce formally ends a marriage or civil partnership, allowing both parties to remarry or enter into a new civil partnership if they wish. The 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 married for at least one year. Divorce proceedings involve several stages, including the filing of legal documents, potentially court hearings, and the final decree absolute, which officially dissolves the marriage.

Legal Separation (Judicial 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 particularly 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.

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, arrangements for children, 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.

Arrangements for Children

Whether a couple chooses divorce or legal separation, arrangements for children are a critical component.

Child arrangements cover where the children will live (residence), how much time they will spend with each parent (contact), and how their upbringing, including education and health care, will be managed.

The child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration, and parents are encouraged to agree on these arrangements amicably.

If agreement cannot be reached, family law courts can make orders regarding these arrangements.

Legal Separation or Divorce: FAQs

Can we live separately and remain married?


Yes, couples can choose to live separately while remaining married through a judicial separation. This allows them to maintain their marital status for religious or personal reasons while living independent lives.


Is a separation agreement legally binding?


While a separation agreement itself is not a court order, it can be upheld in court if it is properly drafted and both parties have taken independent legal advice. Family law solicitors can ensure that the agreement is a written document that meets all legal criteria.

How do we make arrangements for our children during separation?


Parents are encouraged to work together to decide on living arrangements, how much time children will spend with each parent, and how they will continue to support their children’s needs. If parents cannot agree, they can seek mediation or, as a last resort, apply to the court for a child arrangements order.

Can we get divorced if we’ve been married less than a year?


No, couples must have been married for at least one year before they can initiate divorce proceedings in England and Wales. However, they can consider a separation agreement or judicial separation in the meantime.

Choosing between legal separation and divorce is a significant decision that impacts many aspects of a couple’s life, especially when children are involved. Consulting with family law solicitors can provide guidance tailored to individual circumstances, ensuring that rights are protected and the process is handled as smoothly as possible.

How can Expert Family Law assist?

The divorce 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 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.

The solicitors on our panel can assist you through the process of divorce, including the application, as well as assisting you with child arrangements, financial settlements and ancillary relief following the termination of your marriage.

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 divorce solicitor from our panel could help with your case.



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