For many individuals who wish to end their marriages, divorce is the clearest and most obvious choice. A divorce severs the binds that a marriage creates and permits once-married individuals to return to their single statuses and live without the commitments to their former partners. However, not all individuals who want to end their marriages choose to pursue divorce.
In Washington and other American jurisdictions, married people can choose to pursue legal separations. A legal separation leaves two people married but effectively separates their lives the way a divorce would. During legal separation proceedings the partners to a couple may work out how they will divide up their property, how they will share in the custody and co-parenting of their kids and if any support will be paid from one of the parties to the other.
But, as stated, a legal separation does not end a marriage and for that reason once a legal separation has been ordered the parties can choose to reconcile and reassert their marital relationship without having to get remarried. However, they may also decide after a time that they want their separation converted into a divorce and through the courts they may effectuate that change.
Not all couples will be served by the option of legally separating and some will simply want to go straight to divorce to permanently break the legal bonds that join them to their spouses. It is an important choice for individuals to consider when they are preparing to end their marriages, and for some it may be helpful to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of legal separations with their trusted family law attorneys.