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Divorce, Dissolution, and Legal Separation — What’s the Difference?
People in unhappy marriages have options. But people often confuse the terms divorce, dissolution, and legal separation. The choice you make can affect your rights concerning your partner, your children, and third parties.
Florida complicates your options by not providing a process for securing a legal separation in court. This means that any action short of divorce will rely on your ability to reach an agreement with your spouse.
Here is some information about the differences between divorce, dissolution, and legal separation.
Understanding Domestic Relations Terms in Florida
Marriage in Florida creates a legal relationship. It entitles the spouses to certain legal protections upon death or divorce. It also creates a legal relationship recognized by courts and government agencies for purposes of:
At the end of the divorce, the court will issue a divorce decree. This decree contains the terms of the divorce for these four issues. It also returns the spouses to the legal status of being unmarried and single.
Some couples choose legal separation over divorce for religious or personal reasons. Others choose separation in the hopes of reconciling.
Florida does not have a process for entering court orders for a legal separation.
Many other states have a process similar to divorce for couples who want to separate and resolve the four issues listed above. In these states, the difference between divorce and legal separation is that the spouses remain married after the court enters the orders at the end of the separation.
In Florida, couples must undertake legal separation through a separation agreement. The spouses can enforce the separation agreement like any other contract.
If spouses cannot agree on a separation agreement, a spouse can file a maintenance action for child support and spousal support. Parents can also go to court to resolve child custody and visitation issues. But courts cannot divide the couple’s property without a divorce proceeding.
Differences Between Divorce (or Dissolution) and Separation
The main difference between divorce and separation is that a divorce ends your marriage. Divorcees can legally marry other people if they desire.
A separation does not end your marriage. Separated spouses cannot legally remarry. If either spouse marries someone else, prosecutors could charge them with bigamy.
But this also means that if the couple reconciles and wants to be married again, divorcees must remarry each other. By contrast, separated spouses do not need to remarry since their marriage never ended.
You and your spouse can often separate quicker than you can divorce. To divorce, you must file a divorce petition with the court.
Florida requires a 20-day waiting period for all divorces to give spouses time to change their minds. If you add in the time for the court to enter a divorce decree, an uncontested divorce could take four to five weeks. A contested divorce could take several months or longer, depending on the complexity of the issues in the case.
The time to separate could be substantially shorter. If you and your spouse agree to all of the terms of your separation, a family lawyer could prepare a separation agreement in a few days.
If you need to negotiate terms, a separation could take longer. But the time will depend on how much negotiation you need to resolve your differences. Consult an experienced divorce attorney to discuss what option is best for you.