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Getting a divorce can have serious, long-term effects, both emotionally and legally. There are also strict legal requirements that cover everything from choosing a method of legal separation to selecting where and how to file, to deciding how the property should be divided. The divorce process can be confusing, especially without legal assistance. FindLaw's directory can connect you with trusted divorce lawyers to guide you through the divorce process and minimize the stress you experience during this difficult time.
What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Separation?
There are several distinctions between divorce and separation.
First, legal separation may be a court-mandated step of the divorce process, with some states requiring that potential divorcees spend some time living apart in a form of legal separation before proceeding to formal divorce.
Outside of this requirement, legal separation is reversible, while divorce is not. Once you have been declared divorced from a former spouse, there is no going back. Legally separated spouses retain the right to inherit property as well, and may not remarry (as they are still considered married, despite separation).
What Are Alternatives to Divorce?
Depending on your circumstances, you may have other options for ending your marriage besides a divorce. Many states offer legal separations, which can allow spouses to make some of the same decisions as a divorce regarding their shared property, child custody, and child support. This option doesn't legally end the marriage and is generally used when couples want to retain their marriage status for religious or health care reasons.
An annulment, on the other hand, has the same legal effect as a divorce but does so by declaring your marriage was never valid in the first place. Reasons for an annulment could be that one spouse was already married, was tricked into the marriage, or was too young at the time to legally marry.
What Is the Difference Between an Annulment and Divorce?
While divorce may be permanent, it does not dispute the fact that a marriage was legally enacted and in existence in the first place.
An annulment, however, is very similar to a divorce as it may involve a dividing of assets, custody and visitation negotiations, and so on — but an annulment means that the marriage was established on false pretenses. If a man discovers, for example, that his wife has been lying about an extensive criminal past (or present), or that she was never formally divorced from a former spouse, he may file for an annulment rather than a divorce.
If an annulment is successful, it is — from a legal perspective — as if the marriage did not ever truly exist. Annulments can also be sought for religious reasons, particularly given the gravity of divorce in the understanding of certain faiths.
How Are Marital Assets Divided?
The division of marital property after a divorce will generally depend on whether or not you live in a community property state. The best way to determine whether your state is a community property state is to talk to a local attorney who can tell you what the law is and who can help you understand how that affects your situation.
Community property states consider nearly all property obtained after the marriage as equally owned by both spouses. As a result, the property will generally be equally split after the divorce. Absent community property statutes, it's typically up to the court to divide marital property between both parties. In either case, courts will normally accept a property division agreement if the spouses can create their own.