Legal separation is an arrangement where a married couple lives apart but remains legally married. Legal separations may be mutually agreed to or ordered by judicial decree. Often parties who legally separate do so for religious reasons or to maintain health insurance or life insurance benefits.
With respect to immigration, legal separation can be defined broadly or narrowly. Under the narrower definition, a legal separation means either a limited or absolute divorce through judicial proceedings and can refer only to a situation where there has been a termination of the marital status. Under the broader definition, legal separation requires some formal government action to dissolve or alter the marital relationship by operation of law. Under both definitions, a legal separation requires some degree of formal government action––whether a divorce decree or some other government action short of divorce. The definition of legal separation can be particularly important in immigration court because a child’s citizenship may depend on the marital status of their parents.