Divorce, Dissolution, and Legal Separation - What's the Difference?

Divorce, Dissolution, and Legal Separation – What’s the Difference?

In South Carolina, divorce and dissolution of marriage are the same; a divorce is simply a dissolution of a marriage. Legal separation, however, is a different legal status altogether. Understanding the difference between a divorce and a legal separation is important because each offers advantages and disadvantages. 

The differences between divorce and legal separation can affect other important matters, such as child custody and child support. Below is an outline of some of the key differences between these two legal statuses.

A divorce is a final legal process that permanently ends a marriage and allows each former spouse to remarry. 

Strictly speaking, South Carolina law does not recognize a formal legal status called “separated.” However, a South Carolina family court will issue an order for “separate maintenance and support.” 

This order temporarily resolves issues such as property division, child custody, and child support that allow couples to live as if they were legally separated. A separation does not allow either party to marry again since both spouses remain legally married.


The annulment of a marriage is beyond the scope of this article. However, since you might characterize an annulment as a form of dissolution, it deserves mention.

In an annulment, a court declares the end of a marriage retroactively. In other words, it declares that the marriage was never valid in the first place. This might happen, for example, if one of the spouses was too young to marry without parental consent but lied about their age on their marriage certificate.

Grounds for Divorce

South Carolina law does not impose restrictive grounds for divorce. Even in a no-fault divorce, however, you still have to prove that you have lived apart for at least a year and that you have no intention of resuming your relationship. In a fault-based divorce, you must prove adultery, habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, or something similar.

To get a “legal separation” (a court order of separate maintenance), you don’t have to prove much of anything beyond your identity, your marital status, and your agreement with your spouse. In fact, couples often use a one-year legal separation as a stepping stone to a formal divorce.  

Ancillary Issues

Both divorce and legal separation in South Carolina can address similar issues, including child custody, child support, alimony, and property division (including the allocation of debts).

However these issues are handled, the permanence and nature of the arrangements can differ significantly between a divorce and separation.

Financial Benefits and Perks

Many people remain married for the sake of the financial perks. The legal termination of marriage typically ends eligibility for certain benefits, such as health insurance coverage under your spouse’s plan.

Under a legal separation arrangement, spouses may still qualify for certain benefits, such as health insurance, because the marriage remains legally intact.

Modification of Terms

It is a lot easier to modify the terms of a separation than to modify the terms of a final divorce decree. That is because one of the purposes in allowing separation rather than divorce is to encourage eventual reconciliation. Nevertheless, changing circumstances can justify modifying a final divorce decree.

Hire an Experienced Family Lawyer To Represent Your Interests

No matter how amicable you are hoping that your divorce will turn out to be, you need to prepare for the possibility that things could get acrimonious. At that point, you’re going to need a lawyer. But a new lawyer will need time to get up to speed on your case. 

Meanwhile, judicial proceedings might be ongoing, with deadlines looming. If you anticipate needing a South Carolina family lawyer, get one involved earlier rather than later.

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm Minor Law Divorce Lawyers in Rock Hill, SC at (803) 504-0971 or contact us online today.
You can also visit our law firm at 1273 Ebenezer Rd, Suite B, Rock Hill, SC 29732.

We serve throughout York County.