DEFINITION of 'Legal Separation'

For all practical purposes, a circumstantial divorce without a legal decree. Legal separation usually entails a court order that two spouses can live apart as unmarried persons, except that they are still married. A couple that is legally separated must still deal with the typical divorce-related issues such as alimony, child support, child custody and property division.

BREAKING DOWN 'Legal Separation'

Legal separation is considered an alternative to divorce for those who may have religious or social objections to an actual divorce. This process can also be used in some cases as a basis for long-term reconciliation. However, the growing trend toward informal separation and no-fault divorces is making this more formal legal process increasingly obsolete.

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