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What is the difference between a legal separation and divorce?

When a couple first gets married, divorce is probably the furthest thing from their minds. However, some Washington couples may find that after years or even decades of marriage, they have grown apart and are ready to go their separate ways. While couples in these situations may feel divorce is their only option, for some legal separation may also be an option to consider. These couples may be interested in learning more about the differences between divorce and legal separation in Washington.

Divorce, also known as dissolution, puts a legal end to a couple's marriage. Either spouse or both of them can file for divorce. When a marriage fails, the legal term is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." It is not necessary for both spouses to believe the marriage is irretrievably broken, just that one of them maintains it is. In addition, it is not necessary for a spouse to show that the other spouse has engaged in some sort of wrongful behavior -- divorce in Washington is a no-fault system.

Legal separation, on the other hand, means that a couple is separating, but it will not legally end the couple's marriage. A couple may have very personal reasons to legally separate rather than divorce. For example, these reasons could be religious in nature. A couple may also have financial reasons for choosing to separate rather than divorce. It is not necessary, however, for a couple to first petition for a legal separation before seeking a divorce. In addition, after a couple has legally separated for six months or more, either spouse may be able to convert the legal separation into a divorce action if the appropriate steps are taken with the court.

Whether a couple in Washington decides to legally separate or divorce, it is important that they understand all of the consequences of doing so. If necessary, each spouse may want to get more information about the nuances of legal separation and divorce in the state.

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