Divorce is a court judgment dissolving a marriage. Divorce has many consequences - see consequences of divorce.
Legal separation is like divorce, but it does not terminate the marriage, so we can say it is a "limited divorce". Separation also requires a court judgment, but there are at least six major differences between separation and divorce. Apart from those differences, described below, the legal consequences of separation are the same as those of divorce.
First difference: the right to remarry
The major difference between separation and divorce is that after obtaining a divorce spouses are allowed to remarry while in case of separation they may not contract a new marriage. Separation may be cancelled and the "old" marriage restored, as it were.
Second difference: conditions
It is easier to obtain a separation judgment than a divorce judgment, because in case of separation the parties do not have to prove that the breakdown of their marriage is irretrievable (there is no hope for reconciliation between spouses). It is enough to show that the breakdown of the marriage is complete. Moreover, legal separation may also be requested by the party solely responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, while in case of divorce it is generally not possible.
Third difference: cost and duration of proceedings
If the spouses have no minor children together, the court may adjudicate separation based on mutual consent of both spouses after just one hearing for a fee of PLN 100 (separation procedure). Divorce may take longer, particularly if fault is to be assigned. Moreover, in case of divorce the court fees amount to PLN 600 (flat fee).
Fourth difference: the name
Within a period of 3 months after the divorce judgment is granted, a divorced spouse may, through a declaration of will made before the Superintendent Registrar, resume the name he/she used before marriage. A separated spouse has no such option.
Fifth difference: duration of maintenance payments
The obligation to pay maintenance to the other spouse is in some cases limited to five years after the divorce judgment (however, it is possible to request a court order extending that period). In case of separation there is no such time limit.
Sixth difference: obligation of mutual assistance
After separation, the spouses are always obliged to provide assistance to each other, if required for reasons of fairness, while in the case of divorce there is no such obligation. However, in practice it would be difficult to claim assistance from the other spouse as the notion of "reasons of fairness" is very unclear.
Legal advice is provided by lawyers specializing in family law.