Divorce vs. Separation in New Jersey: The Legal Differences

It can be extremely hard to end a relationship, especially when you’ve committed to being with that person for the rest of your life. However, there are situations when deciding to separate is better than staying together, especially if there are frequent conflicts or your children’s well-being is at stake.

Whether you’re planning to call a divorce attorney in NJ to make the split legal or just thinking about taking a break from your marriage for a brief period of time, it’s important to understand your options. In plain speech, the terms “divorce” and “separation” are often thrown around interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things. While this article isn’t meant to function as legal advice on what you should do in your specific situation, we can use it to inform you of the differences between separation and divorce in NJ. Here’s what you need to know:


A so-called “legal separation” splits you and your partner’s marital assets, properties, and debts, as well as child custody and child support, if relevant. However, a legal separation does not actually end the marriage. You still must list yourself as married on taxes and legal documents and cannot get married to anyone else. In addition, even if you are separated from your partner, you can usually still access spousal benefits, including health insurance, pension payments, and social security payments. Tools like our NJ alimony calculator will be inaccurate since there may not be legal requirements for alimony if there are no divorce proceedings.

Legal separation is often seen as a step taken during the process of getting a divorce, but it isn’t always used that way. If you need to reevaluate your marriage and don’t yet want to serve your spouse a court order or file for divorce, legal separation can be a viable option since it is reversible. For this reason, some refer to separation as a form of “limited divorce.”


A true divorce, often legally called an “absolute divorce,” is a complete separation from matrimonial bonds with another person. It is not reversible. By agreeing to a divorce, you are once again legally considered single and are no longer entitled to any spousal rights or benefits.

New Jersey’s Specific Requirements

You can separate from your spouse in any state, but what happens after that can depend on local legislation. In New Jersey, there is technically no such thing as a “state of legal separation” since there are no laws specifically referencing legal separation for married individuals.

NJ’s current “legal separation” operates based on an archaic system called “divorce from bed and board,” allows couples to split their assets but remain legally married. Since this process is considered dated and is rarely used, most couples negotiate a “Marital Separation Agreement” or “Property Separation Agreement” instead. In this agreement, you and your partner can negotiate the terms of separation (and come up with your own plans for child support, alimony, parenting time, and distribution of marital assets). However, even as a court of law enforces this agreement, you remain legally married to your spouse.

Other Options

Even if you have not filed for divorce or initiated separation, you still have another option if you need help with child support or custody. You can file a Complaint with the Superior Court of New Jersey if you intend to seek child support, child custody, or alimony from a partner. In order to ensure this process goes smoothly, it is in your best interest to get help from an attorney before filing a complaint.

Keith Family Law Can Help

If you’re considering separation or divorce, you need a qualified and compassionate team of family law attorneys on your side. At Keith Family Law, we take pride in creating lasting attorney-client relationships and seeking true justice for all parties involved in any family law case. If you need legal advice about divorce, separation, or any other family law matter, get in touch with us today. We’re here for you.

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