Legal Separation vs Divorce in Utah: How To Make a Decision

Jeremy AtwoodDivorce

graphic showing separation vs divorce

Marriages can take turns that push couples to go their separate ways. But ending a marriage is no easy decision, especially when you share assets, property, and most importantly, children. 

Broadly speaking, there are two ways you can exit an unhappy marriage- divorce and legal separation. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are significant legal differences between them.

If you’re having serious marital problems, a divorce might seem like the only way to split off and protect your finances. However, a legal separation can offer the same protections as a divorce, and in some cases, work out even better. 

In this post, we’ll delve into the advantages of legal separation and divorce, and why you may prefer one over the other. 

What Does Legal Separation Mean?

Some married couples want a break from each other but are not ready to end their marriage. A ‘separation’ represents time away from your marriage as you attempt to reconcile or choose to finally divorce.  

Most people separate physically, meaning they live in different residential addresses. But this isn’t always necessary. You can opt to remain in the same house (for financial reasons or otherwise) but only live as roommates instead of a couple.  

That said, a legal separation is more formal. You’ll need a court to approve your decision and draft a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement in Utah will divide your property, set a co-parenting arrangement, and cut your financial ties to your spouse. 

Divorce laws in Utah recognize legal separation, but it’s called an action for separate maintenance. To qualify, you must meet at least one of the following conditions. 

  • Your spouse provides for the family but refuses to maintain you  
  • Your spouse has abandoned your partner for no good reason  
  • Your spouse, through no fault of your own, decides to move out 

Legal Separation and Remarriage

When a court grants legal separation, neither spouse can remarry. In case you want to remarry, you will have to officially end your marriage with a divorce.   

Although your marriage isn’t officially terminated, you can have child custody and visitation orders issued by the court (if you’re living separately). You also retain your next-of-kin and medical decision-making rights.  

Many states allow you to remain legally separated forever. But in some, the court will place a deadline on the separation. You and your spouse must decide if you want to reconcile, remain separated, or divorce. 

A few reasons why a couple may separate indefinitely include: 

  • Religious beliefs  
  • A desire to remain legally together for the sake of children  
  • A simple dislike of divorce  

How Does Divorce Differ?

The biggest difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that a divorce officially ends your marriage. In other words, a divorce is permanent, and often incredibly hard to reverse.  

Other differences between divorce and separation are as follows.  

Rights to Benefits: While you may retain your spouse’s healthcare benefits after a separation, you must give them up after a divorce. This usually varies based on state law and terms of the benefit.  

Decision-Making Rights: As mentioned, legally separated couples are still next-of-kin, meaning they’re each other’s closest relatives. Consequently, they have the right to make medical or financial decisions for each other. This only changes when a marriage officially ends through a divorce.  

Property Rights: If you and your partner are legally separated, each of you will reserve your rights to property upon the other’s death. However, divorce cases in Utah extinguish any such rights, and the property is divided as per Utah’s equitable distribution laws.  

A Chance of Reconciliation: It’s easier to put your differences aside and start afresh when you’re legally separated. Divorce doesn’t allow this.   

Debts and Liabilities: Legal separation laws in Utah specify what debts will remain joint and what becomes individual responsibility. The divorce process will separate your finances. 

When Should You Get a Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?

Couples might consider legal separation when:  

  • They have young children and wish to keep the family together for their sake.  
  • They’re not entirely sure they want to end their marriage and want space to figure things out.  
  • They do not wish to divorce for religious reasons.  
  • They want to continue filing taxes jointly for the benefits.  

Several states require married couples to live apart for some time before they can divorce. This usually applies to only certain types of divorces. For example, many states require separation only for couples seeking divorce on fault-based grounds.   

When is Divorce the Better Choice?

A divorce is preferable in situations where:  

  • You don’t see any financial benefit from a legal separation and are dead set on ending your marriage.   
  • You want to get remarried.  
  • You want no connection to your spouse and do not want to be considered next of kin.  

Why You Should Work with a Divorce Attorney in Layton

Whether you’re considering legal separation or divorce, it’s crucial to work with an experienced attorney. Both processes are complicated, and an experienced divorce attorney in Layton can help you navigate the legal framework.   

Besides assisting with property division negotiations and custody arrangements, an attorney will file all necessary paperwork. A divorce attorney in Layton can make the divorce process easier on you and your spouse, ensuring the best possible outcome for both parties.  

The Bottom Line

Divorce and legal separation are both valid options to consider when you want to exit a failing marriage. Hopefully, this post has given you more insight into the differences between the two, and when you should consider one over the other. Note that not all states allow legal separations. Here, you’ll need a divorce to split from your spouse.

Ready to navigate your divorce with confidence? Jeremy Atwood Law’s experienced team of divorce attorneys in Layton is here to guide you through every step. We’re committed to protecting your rights and securing the best outcome for you. Schedule a consultation with our lawyers and take the first step towards a new chapter in your life.