What is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

Are you thinking about filing for a legal separation instead of divorce in Colorado?  We understand that it can be a hard decision to make.  If you’re not sure, continue reading about the differences.   Also make sure to see our checklist “Is Legal Separation Right for Me”?

Two signs at a crossroads. One says new life, other says old life.
New life vs old life sign

How Different Are They?

Functionally, legal separation and divorce are the same.  We do the same division of assets, you can still get child support and maintenance, and there is a court order.  But there are some very important differences.  See the chart below to see the similarities and differences.  The important differences are explained in more detail below.

Issue Divorce Legal Separation
Divide assets and debts (including retirement and house) Yes Yes
Maintenance (alimony) can be awarded. Yes Yes
Child Support will be awarded Yes Yes
Neither Party can convert the proceeding to the other type Yes NO
The Decree is final and can’t later be converted Yes NO
If you decide to get back together, you can just get remarried. Yes NO

“Neither Party can convert the proceeding to the other type”:

If someone files for legal separation at the beginning of the case, the other party can ask that it be converted to a divorce any time before the entry of the Decree of Dissolution.  The other person could choose to file and make things more complicated no matter what you want.  The rule in Colorado is that if someone wants a divorce then they can get one.  The other person cannot keep them hostage in another type of relationship.

We often see changing a filing to a divorce from legal separation as a manipulation tactic.  Its better to avoid that possibility early by not filing for legal separation in the first place.


“The Decree is final and can’t later be converted.”

What the heck does that mean?  Well, at the end of your divorce or separation the court will issue a Decree of Divorce or Legal Separation. This document is the official final stamp saying that you’re not legally bound together anymore.

A Decree of Legal Separation can be converted into a divorce decree at the request of only one party.  This can happen any time past six months after the entry of the Decree of Legal Separation.  This means that the other person (or you) can change the name of your separation without consent.

“If you decide to get back together, you can just get remarried.”

Many people think that they will get a legal separation because if they choose to get back together again it will be easy to do!  That is actually the opposite of the truth.  In actuality, you will have to do an expensive filing with the court to void your legal separation if you want to get back together.  If you have a divorce, then you can just get married again without getting the court involved.

If you have questions about which option is right for you, a consultation with the attorneys at the Rutherford Law Center will put your mind at ease.  Please CONTACT US for more peace of mind.

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