What's the Difference Between a Split-Couch and Full-Couch Casket?

Mourners at funeral visitation
Families often use a split-couch casket, such as this one, during funeral wakes and visitations.. Photo © Design Pics/Leah Warkentin/Getty Images

Most people know little to nothing about caskets and the many different styles, materials and options available these days. This is understandable since, unless you've arranged a funeral or burial for a loved one or prearranged your own, the subject of death is generally avoided. This article explains the features and key differences between a full-couch and split-couch casket.

Split-Couch Caskets

This is the most familiar form of casket -- the one you probably picture in your head right now.

The lid of a split-couch casket consists of two separate hinged pieces. During a wake or open-casket visitation, only the head-section is opened for viewing, which reveals only the upper half of the deceased. (Both sections of the casket's lid open, however, to facilitate placement of the body within by funeral service professionals.)

Split-couch caskets might also be referred to as a half-couch or cut-lid casket. While uncommon, a 3/4-couch casket also exists, within which the closed lower-lid section covers the deceased from roughly his or her knees down.

Full-Couch Caskets

While this casket style is generally less known, it definitely features in many funerals and burials in the United States, particularly in Pennsylvania. The lid of a full-couch casket comprises a single piece, usually hinged. (Technically, a coffin is also full-couch since opening or removing its lid reveals the deceased's entire body.) When the lid of a full-couch casket is opened, the deceased's entire body is visible.

Why the Difference?

The reason explaining why full-couch and split-couch caskets exist has been lost to time, assuming there was even a single explanation to begin with. Some insist that half-couch versions grew in popularity in the 20th century to facilitate the rise of open-casket viewing of the deceased during a wake/visitation, mirroring the growth of funeral parlors and funeral homes.

Others believe that full-couch caskets are preferred when the funeral/disposition services will not involve viewing the deceased, i.e., a closed-casket service.

The truth is that neither a split- or full-couch casket precludes an open- or closed-casket funeral service. The decision to view the casketed deceased or not rests entirely with the immediate family, and both styles can accommodate this type of service. In fact, some full-couch caskets even feature an inner all-glass lid that can cover the deceased head-to-foot with the outer lid open, and/or an "inner foot panel" that effectively functions like the lower half of a split-couch casket lid by covering the deceased to his or her waist.

Ultimately, the choice to use a full- or split-couch caskets is yours, based on your preferences and/or regional tradition. Most casket manufacturers offer full-couch caskets in a variety of styles and materials (such as wood or metal). Regardless of where you live, you should ask your funeral or burial provider about their availability even if you don't see one shown in a casket display room, catalog or listed on a funeral home's Casket Price List.

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