What Is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Dissolution of Marriage?

Often times, parties will come in and one of the parties will come in, the husband or wife, and say, “Well, we’re already separating.” Colorado does not recognize an informal separation. Under the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, which is found in Title 14 at the Colorado Revised Statutes, there are two types of processes by which parties can separate themselves and their financial affairs. One is through a divorce called the “Dissolution of Marriage”, and the second is called the “Legal Separation”.

The process for a legal separation is exactly the same as it is in the dissolution of marriage. There is the same procedures, disclosure requirements, the number of hearings, and the events that must take place in order to get a judge to sign a decree of legal separation. The essential difference with a decree of legal separation is that at the end of the day, when the case becomes final, you’re still married to the other person, which means that you’re not divorced. If you’re not divorced, you can’t marry somebody else.

Under Colorado law, six months from the day that a legal separation decree is signed by a judge, either party can file a motion to convert a legal separation to a dissolution of marriage, and there really are no legal requirements other than filing the motion, and seldom will a court entertain objections to converting a legal separation to a divorce once the six-month period expires. In terms of a legal separation, once again, a lawyer should be consulted who’s got a tremendous amount of experience in this area because they can tell you what the benefits are to obtaining a legal separation.

Years ago, I had a case where parties had started their process of going through a divorce, and one of the parties came to me with a serious health problem. The serious health problem required a lot of medical treatment. In order for my client to receive the kind of medical treatment that she needed, she needed to remain on her husband’s medical insurance. Medical insurance ordinarily terminates when a judge signs a decree of dissolution of marriage, so we were able to work out an agreement where the parties got a legal separation, so that she could stay on his medical insurance and receive the long-term medical assistance, treatment, and care that she needed to get through this illness.

We did that, and we reached an agreement that said that. She got her care. She got better, and then six months to a year after that, the parties agreed to convert their legal separation into a divorce. Those are the kinds of things that lawyers who have experience of family law will be able to help you with in distinguishing the difference between a legal separation and a dissolution of marriage.

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