Unlike getting a divorce, which is when a marriage ends, a legal separation is a court order that states the rights that each partner has while he or she remains married to the other but live apart. Although legal separations are not all that common, they are sometimes used in situations where the spouses have financial or personal issues that might affect the marriage.
In legal separations, the court often decides many of the same issues as it might do during a divorce. As an example, they can decide on a reasonable amount for child or spousal support. Instead of calling it actual spousal or child support, however, the courts call it something different so that it is distinguished differently than what it would be in a divorce. Known as separation maintenance, the document is filed as a motion and is known as "motion pending litigation." What is decided during this time by the court is then often used later should the couple move forward with divorce proceedings.
In addition to deciding what is to be paid for separation maintenance, other issues that may be decided can include child custody and child visitation. There may also be a decision made during this time on the division of property. How it is divided for a legal separation normally will depend on the couple's situation and how the situation affects the property.
Legal separations may affect the rights of each spouse. Individuals who are considering a legal separation may find it beneficial to learn more about the legal process as it applies to their own personal situation.
Source: FindLaw, "Legal Separation vs. Divorce," accessed May 28, 2015