Separated or Divorced: What’s the Difference and Does it Matter?
Yes, there is a difference between being separated and being divorced.
To be separated means one person in the relationship has withdrawn from it, you and your spouse have started living ‘separate and apart’ and there is no reasonable prospect of you reconciling. If you are a married couple, you can still be married and separated at the same time. You can also be separated and living in the same home.
Couples will have to agree to a separation date. This becomes significant for a number of reasons, including:
- The separation date becomes the date at which all of your property (solely and jointly owned assets and debts) gets valued and divided for property division. Ultimately then, an equalization payment – a payment from one spouse to the other – may be impacted based on the fact that one could have had different assets at a different date;
- The separation date can also be a trigger for support, both child and spousal. Some parties will claim retroactive payments to these dates, if available;
- The date will be important for claiming a divorce, a process which requires couples to have been separated for one year.
Oftentimes, married couples will complete a Separation Agreement, or obtain a Court Order, which outlines these, and other, issues.
A separation, however, even one that is then finalized in an Agreement or Order, does not tie up all loose ends for married spouses.
A divorce is what legally ends a marriage. It also has the following impacts:
- Health insurance benefits and the ability of you or your former spouse to stay on as a beneficiary of the other’s plan may change. This is because most benefit plans will only allow for spouses to be covered, not former spouses;
- If you pass away without a will in place, a divorce changes your former spouse’s entitlements to share in your estate;
- May change if your former spouse can remain your beneficiary under your pension benefits.
Once you are granted a divorce, you will be given a Divorce Certificate, which allows you to remarry.
- There is no such thing as a ‘legal separation’ – you are separated as soon as you meet the criteria above.
- I’m separated, so I can re-marry – you cannot get re-married if you’ve only separated from your spouse, and not divorced.
- Divorce is not automatic – just because you separate and/or get a Separation Agreement or Court Order, doesn’t mean you are at that time, divorced, or will be divorced automatically after a certain period of time.