The legal separation agreement is often used as a basis by which the final divorce agreement is established.  It contains terms similar to that of a divorce agreement.  

Similar to divorce

A divorce and legal separation are somewhat similar.  Many states require a legal separation for a period of time, often one year or less, prior to moving forward with divorce proceedings. 

A legal separation is usually the beginning of the end for many marriages.  However, it does not need to end in divorce.  It can be established and maintained indefinitely. 

Some couples legally separate in order to work on their marriage or determine if it can be saved.  The legal separation agreement provides terms that establish support, custody, division of property/debts and other rights while separated.   

There are specific guidelines that must be followed to establish the separation for the satisfaction of the state's requirements to divorce.   It's very important couples understand the laws and requirements in their jurisdiction regardless of their intent to reconcile in order to avoid a longer separation/waiting period if the reconciliation is unsuccessful, as well as, to ensure the terms are enforceable if either spouse fails to perform on the agreement when established outside of a court order.

If the agreement is part of a court order, either spouse could be found in contempt if he/she violates the agreement.  Otherwise, if the agreement is a contract (not incorporated into the decree) either spouse would have to sue in a separate action for violation of the agreement.

If the couple follows the state guidelines used to maintain a legal separation or separation as defined by the state satisfying corresponding requirements to divorce, the couple can usually proceed to divorce upon establishing terms.

While legally separated, neither spouse can remarry.  Usually, a legal separation will allow most couples to maintain health insurance and other financial benefits as a married couple that would be discontinued or modified if the couple divorced.

A divorce establishes a legal end of a marriage and terms accepted by both spouses.   The terms can be established through negotiations, family court, mediation or other competent body.  They are set forth in the divorce decree, the court's formal order of the dissolution of marriage.    It is very uncommon for terms of the divorce to modified after a divorce is finalized.   Upon a divorce, both spouses may legally remarry.

Religion vs. divorce and separation

Many world religions do not accept divorce and have rules against it and remarriage as accepted by their Church.  Some have established protocols to seek approval for a divorce or remarriage.  See the 2019 DMK Article Religion vs. Divorce.  Some religions are more lenient regarding separation. 

Some couples choose legal separation so that the terms of separation can be established (like in a divorce) without challenging their religious beliefs.  However, many churches/religions against divorce do not regard the legal/civil dissolution anyway.   Consult an officer of your Church for more information regarding religious guidelines.

Establishes terms of separation 

Often, a legal separation is for the purpose of a married couple's opportunity to live separately until the marriage can improve with the help of counseling and therapy.  Otherwise, it is to define divorce-like terms until the divorce has been legally completed with a signed settlement agreement accepted by both spouses and recognized by the courts in their residing county.  The terms may include, financial support, child custody, asset and debt allocation and living arrangements while separated.

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