What is a Limited Divorce?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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A limited divorce is a court-supervised separation of a married couple. The partners remain married but live apart, and the court may divide assets by court order and issue other court orders which spell out the terms of the separation. This type of divorce is also known as a legal separation, qualified divorce, partial divorce, or divorce from bed and board. In all cases, the couple is separated and recognized as such under the law, but the bonds of matrimony have not been dissolved.

Many married couples who wish to separate are encouraged to seek an absolute divorce, in which the bonds of matrimony are legally separated by court order. There may be cases in which a limited divorce is necessary to satisfy requirements for a cooling off period, or for personal reasons. In such cases, the couple can specifically request this type of divorce.

For religious reasons, some people may prefer a limited divorce. Some religions forbid divorce except in very special circumstances, and when a relationship is clearly not working and the partners wish to separate, they may not meet the religious grounds for divorce. Likewise, people may have personal reasons for wanting a limited divorce, such as the desire to retain benefits like health insurance coverage. Historically, such divorces were an option for couples which wanted to separate but did not have grounds for an absolute divorce, but most regions allow no-fault divorce today.


In a limited divorce, the partners go to court and a court order is issued to recognize the fact that the partners are living apart and have no hope of reconciliation. The court also determines which parent should have custody of any children, whether or not alimony or child support are required, whether or not shared benefits should continue, and how the assets from the marriage should be divided. Some couples attempt mediation first to work out terms which are mutually agreeable, with the court stepping in if it is not possible to reach an agreement.

Once people are separated in a limited divorce, they may be treated as single people for taxpaying purposes and some other legal matters. They are still legally married, however, which means that they cannot remarry without violating bigamy laws. Having sexual intercourse with someone else is considered adultery in these cases, and can in fact present the grounds for an absolute divorce for people who have chosen a limited divorce for religious reasons.


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