What Is a Limited Divorce?

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The CDC reports that the annual American divorce rate hovers around 2.5 divorces per 1000 individuals. Across the country, numerous couples are going through separation and divorce. These individuals are looking for divorce agreements that cater to their individual needs, their spouse's needs, and the needs of their family.

One arrangement that suits the needs of many separating couples is known as the “limited divorce.” While a limited divorce may not work for everyone, there are many real benefits to this form of spousal separation. Like other divorce proceedings, however, it is in the best interests of both spouses to seek legal advice before agreeing to specific terms and stipulations.

What Is a Limited Divorce?

A limited divorce is a temporary legal separation between two married individuals. This is a court-mandated separation that, in many ways, looks and functions like an absolute divorce (i.e., a final dissolution of a marriage). Though a limited divorce does not legally end the marriage, couples with a limited divorce are still subject to the terms of their specific agreement. 

People outside the legal profession may not have heard the term “limited divorce.” In some states, limited divorces are known as a “separation,” and this is the term most people use in casual contexts. However, while separation can be unofficial (for example, a couple experiencing marital issues who choose to spend a few months apart), a limited divorce is always court mandated. It will include rules that each spouse must abide by.

Can a Limited Divorce Become an Absolute Divorce?

While you do not have to seek a limited divorce to eventually obtain an absolute divorce, this is a possibility that you and your spouse can consider after a period of limited divorce. For example, if you are seeking a limited divorce because you do not meet your state’s grounds for an absolute divorce, you can seek a final divorce in the future if, over the course of your limited divorce, you and your separating spouse meet these requirements (for example, one or both of you enters into a new romantic relationship).

Rules Associated with Limited Divorce

While a limited divorce is a temporary separation, couples undergoing a limited divorce must still abide by the specific details of their agreement. The following examples are some of the most common rules associated with limited divorces.

Custody of Children

If the marriage has resulted in children, the terms of custody will be outlined in the limited divorce agreement. However, this does necessarily guarantee that the custodial arrangements will remain the same should the couple opt to pursue an absolute divorce.

Marital Home

Spouses undergoing a limited divorce do not reside in the same home. The judge presiding over your agreement will determine which spouse is allowed to live in the marital home throughout the duration of the limited divorce.

Sexual Relations

In many states, couples pursuing an absolute divorce must prove they have not been sexually intimate for a set amount of time (generally over twelve months). If a couple engages in sexual relations during their limited divorce, their spouse may have grounds to transition the limited divorce to an absolute.  


Though the separation is temporary, limited divorces involve many of the same obligations as absolute divorces, including the payment of alimony. However, alimony payments may not be applicable in all limited divorces. 


Because a limited divorce is temporary (i.e., not an absolute divorce), neither spouse can legally remarry under the terms of their agreement.


Similarly to the rules regarding remarriage, any extramarital sexual or romantic involvement could give the other spouse grounds for an absolute divorce. 

Why Do Couples Choose a Limited Divorce Over an Absolute Divorce?

If a limited divorce does not completely dissolve a marriage, why do some couples choose this route rather than an absolute divorce (the official end of the marriage)? Many factors may influence a separating couple’s preference for limited rather than absolute divorce.

Religious Objections to Divorce

For many people, an absolute divorce is not permitted by their religious beliefs. For these couples, a limited divorce with its restrictions on remarrying may best fit their needs. 

Standards for Absolute Divorce Not Met

If a couple does not meet the standards for an absolute divorce in their state, they may seek a limited divorce to enforce their separation before finalizing the divorce. Grounds for an absolute divorce either include spousal misconduct (for example, adultery or abuse) or irreconcilable differences. While each state has different requirements, a couple who does not meet their state’s requirement grounds for absolute divorce may temporarily seek a limited divorce.

Financial Benefits

For some couples, the official termination of a marriage could mean the end of substantial financial benefits for the other spouse (particularly tax or insurance benefits). If the divorce is amicable, the supporting spouse may opt to seek a limited divorce so that their spouse can take advantage of these financial benefits in the short term. 

Pause Before Official Termination of Marriage

While most couples who enter into a limited divorce eventually dissolve their marriage, spouses who are still unsure may find the temporary nature of a limited divorce appealing. A limited divorce gives separating couples time to navigate the emotional, financial, and logistical realities of a court-mandated separation.

Do You Need a Divorce Attorney for a Limited Divorce?

Even though limited divorces are temporary agreements, the months and years of living under the rules of your limited divorce agreement can significantly impact your quality of life as you and your spouse decide how best to proceed. Therefore, it is important that you are happy with the terms of your limited divorce. Without the advice of a qualified legal professional, however, you may be unsure exactly what you agree to when you sign your limited divorce agreement.

If you are without legal representation, the time is now to begin speaking with experienced divorce attorneys near you. You can easily search for legal professionals in your nearest city using the free-to-use database of divorce attorneys at


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Scott LevinAuthor

Scott Levin is a family law attorney mediator in San Diego California known as the Chief PeaceKeeper™. As the leading divorce mediation lawyer in California, Scott leverages an eclectic background in law, business and finance to aid families through his expertise in family and divorce mediation. Passionate and dedicated to aiding clients resolve conflict outside of court, Scott Levin helps clients amicably divorce in California by working to bring about settlement terms, drafting the marital settlement agreements and filing the court forms. Scott also helps with post-judgment modifications as well as prenuptial and postnuptial marital agreements.