People often interchange the terms “separation” and “divorce” in everyday conversation, which can lead to confusion about their distinct legal meanings. The mix-up primarily stems from the fact that separation and divorce mark changes in the marital relationship, but the similarities essentially end there. Separation can involve living apart and may even include legal agreements concerning finances, children and property, yet it stops short of legally dissolving the marriage. Divorce, on the other hand, is the formal process of ending a marriage in the eyes of the law.
A clearer distinction
It can be easy to mistake separation for divorce because both signify a shift away from a shared marital life. However, the critical difference lies in the permanence and legal recognition of the status change. Separation is in some way a reversible step or a pause in the marriage, allowing couples to take time off from each other to assess their relationship without the finality of divorce.
It is a sort of intermediary phase where spouses may live apart and even draft a separation agreement that outlines the terms of this period, but they remain legally married. You can only marry another person once you finalize your divorce.
Separation as grounds for no-fault divorce in New Jersey
In New Jersey, couples can pursue a no-fault divorce based on two grounds: irreconcilable differences and separation. A divorce in the Garden State refers to the dissolution of marriage. It is a more permanent separation. For a divorce on the grounds of separation, you and your spouse must have lived separately and apart for at least 18 consecutive months, and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
Separation can be a step toward divorce or an alternative to it. Couples who are unsure if they want to permanently end their marriage might choose separation as a less drastic measure. Those who are sure they want to move on with their lives independently may opt for divorce to remarry or simply have a clean break. Understanding the legal and emotional distinctions between separation and divorce is essential for making life-defining decisions and planning your future.