Legal Separation and Dissolution (Divorce): How Different Are They?

Legal Separation and Dissolution (Divorce): How Different Are They?

It is easy to be confused about the differences between a dissolution (divorce) and legal separation, and which one to choose, because they are so similar in their processes and legal implications. In Washington State, legal separation and dissolution are governed by the same statute, RCW 26.09. They both can result in final orders governing child custody (a parenting plan), child support, spousal maintenance (often known alternatively as alimony), and division of property. The main difference between the two is perhaps the most apparent one: that a separation does not end the marriage. This means parties to a legal separation cannot marry someone else unless the legal separation is converted into a dissolution. If one spouse wants a legal separation, but the other wants a dissolution, the likely result is a dissolution. Under RCW 26.09.150, the court shall convert the separation to a dissolution if one spouse motions for such a conversion at least six months after the separation decree.

So why get a legal separation instead of a dissolution if they are so similar? One reason is because a person’s or couple’s religion may prohibit or strongly discourage divorce, but that person or couple may still effectively need the same things dissolution provides: court orders governing child custody, child support, maintenance, division of assets, restraining orders, etc. Another possible reason is that the filing spouse may not like the thought of ending the marriage, but similarly needs the same type of court orders a dissolution provides. Parties may also hope to reconcile their marriage but be ready to move forward with the finality of other divorce orders.

If you have questions about legal separation and/or dissolution in Washington State, email us at or call at 206-926-9848 to schedule a consultation.


Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe to one or more of our newsletters, delivering meaningful insight on topics that matter to you and your family.
ebl home subscribe image


Latest Blog Posts

Gifting an estate plan is an act of love because an estate plan goes far beyond material possessions, addressing the emotional, practical, and long-term well-being of your loved ones.

Prenuptial agreements (also known as prenups) can play a pivotal role in safeguarding individual spousal rights in the event of divorce and can also strengthen a marriage.

Valentine’s Day can be tricky for single parents, maybe even you. Unpartnered, at least for the time being, you might not foresee your plans fitting into conventional images of the holiday. But that doesn’t have to be. Valentine’s Day, when you’re single, can be more than a day you need to survive. It can be a day to look forward to.

Collaborative law has evolved into a globally practiced
discipline, extending well beyond the realm of family law, and is used frequently in Seattle divorces.

Classifying January as divorce month could be misleading, given how some of the numbers tell a different story. However, one thing remains clear: January is a great time for a fresh start.

A family law attorney can help with child custody (residential time) by creating or modifying a parenting plan.

Given the importance of the trustee’s role in an estate plan, it is necessary to understand the responsibilities before choosing a trustee or accepting the obligation to become one.

If you and your partner reside in Washington state and are unmarried, you each might qualify for the legal protections availed to you by law by classifying your relationship as a committed intimate relationship.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is to build an estate plan while you are alive and well. Estate planning allows you to formally communicate your wishes so they will not be up for interpretation by…

A co-executor can help facilitate the distribution of assets, minimize conflicts, and provide much-needed support to grieving families.