What's the Difference Between a Legal Separation and a Divorce in Colorado?

A question I am often asked is, "what is the difference between a divorce and a legal Separation?"

The primary difference is that if you are legally separated, you cannot get remarried. This is because if you're legally separated, you're still married to your spouse. Often couples choose a legal separation in lieu of a divorce for one of two reasons. One, the couple's religious beliefs morally object to getting a divorce. Or two, the couple wants to allow an unemployed party the ability to remain on the employed party's health insurance. There are a few other reasons couples choose legal separation over divorce, such as rules regarding inheritances, retirement benefits, or social security benefits. However, religion and health insurance are the two most common reasons a couple chooses to pursue a legal separation instead of a divorce.

Now, that you understand the difference, it is important to highlight the similarities. If you choose to pursue a legal separation, the court will enter orders on the following issues: parenting issues, child support, division of property, and division of debt. These are the exact same issues the Court rules on when hearing a divorce case. Consequently, going to court for a legal separation, will feel almost identical to going to court in a contested divorce case.

One important thing to know about legal separation is that it takes two to tango. That means both parties need to agree to pursue a legal separation. As mentioned above, if you're legally married you're still married to your spouse. In Colorado the state will not force an individual to remain married to someone if they want a divorce. Thus, if one party wants a legal separation, and one party wants a divorce, then the parties are getting divorced.

Further, when a legal separation is order by the court it is fairly simple to convert it into a divorce. The biggest hurdle is that once a legal separation ordered, the parties must wait at least 182 days until either party requests that the court convert the legal separation into a divorce. Once the 182 days have passed, either party may file a request with the court that their legal separation be converted into a divorce, and the court will grant that request.