Divorce vs. Legal Separation In Minnesota

UPDATE: 1-21-2015

This is such a common question I thought I would start out the blog by answering it!  My standard quip is as a divorce lawyer I love legal separations because we get to do the same case twice (and charge legal separationaccordingly!).

A quick summary of what a divorce is, a divorce is a dissolution of the marriage where by you divide assets & debts and deal with custody and parenting time for the kids.  Once divorced you can get remarried, date, etc.  you are truly single. In legal parlance that means the “bonds of marital union” will be dissolved and the marriage is no more.

A legal separation is not quite so simple, it is somewhat the same as a divorce, whereby you divide some assets & debts, deal with custody and parenting time, but at the end you are still married to that person, which means you can not get remarried until you go through the divorce.  This can cause extra expense and extra stress so you need to decide carefully.  Remember that a legal separation is not any simpler or less work than a divorce, it just means you can’t remarry at the end of the case.

In my opinion, there are very limited times when a person should seek a legal separation instead of a divorce in Minnesota, here they are:

 New To The State

In order to get divorced in Minnesota you must have lived in Minnesota for at least 180 days before filing for divorce. There is no such requirement to do this for a legal separation.  It’s not uncommon for a person to start a legal separation then convert it to a divorce once the residency requirement is met.

I should point out that the residency requirement is a little more detailed than just 180 days, but it’s a good starting point to understand the concept.

You are on the fence if you really want a divorce

If you have concerns if you are really going to get a divorce and have serious concerns about your spouse spending money or selling your assets or even if they are taking on debt, it might be prudent to file for a legal separation and then you can at least make up your mind at a later date.

The reason why is that there will then be a legal separation date, this is not the same as moving out of the house, where any extra debt (or assets) may very well get to be claimed as non-martial when the divorce finally goes through.

Religious convictions

Lawyers try and stay out of this arena and for good reason, we know the law but are not experts in faith. If your beliefs absolutely forbids divorce, legal separation may be the best option. one note is that legal separation has nothing to do with an annulment under Catholic doctrine and may very well have no impact with your faith.  For that you should consult your priest or pastor for help in this area.

Cost of legal separation

Some people think it is easier (which means cheaper) to do a legal separation, maybe just sign a quick document and get it notarized? If only it was that simple! The short answer is it takes the same amount of work to do a legal separation as a divorce.  You will still have to address child custody, division of property, alimony or spousal maintenance, child support, insurance for the kids, and division of real property (land/ houses) everything that goes on in a divorce you will have to address in a legal separation, but you will still be married to that person.

While legal separations have their places they usually are not the best option if you are considering separating or leaving  your spouse in Minnesota. If you are debating getting divorced here are some divorce tips you need to know.

As always, seek the advice from a GOOD Minnesota divorce lawyer (may I suggest Rosengren Kohlmeyer Divorce law ?).


Jason Kohlmeyer
Rosengren Kohlmeyer, Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota



Jason Kohlmeyer

With over 15 years experience in high conflict family law cases, having received numerous awards, and a frequent lecturer through both Minnesota and the United States on family law issues, Jason has decided to help people through a blog, answering some of the most common questions that people have during divorce and family law. cases. http://rokolaw.com/southern-minnesota-lawyers/jason-kohlmeyer/ Remember this isn't legal advice. Just blog and attempts to answer general questions, for legal advice you need to hire a lawyer. If you're in Minnesota our firm would be happy to see if we can help you.


  1. Your point on getting a legal separation if there are concerns about debt is poignant. It makes me think that a legal separation is a protection to each party when there is uncertainty in the relationship. It probably shouldn’t be used by everyone but there are cases where it can useful.

  2. I agree, it’s important to know the difference between divorce and legal separation. One of my friends told me that she would rather have a legal separation than get a divorce right now, so I would like to have a better idea of her reasons for it. I didn’t know that you have to live in a state for a certain amount of time before they can file for divorce. Since my friend has lived her for less than six months, it seems like she would need to file for legal separation, then convert it to a full divorce.

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