A legal separation is a step that can be taken when a married couple separates but does not want to divorce. (http://divorce.avvo.com) A court will decide how the couple's assets will be divided and rule on issues such as child custody (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/understanding-child-custody), child support (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/child-support-laws), and visitation (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/visitation-rights). Legal separations are unusual but are sometimes sought by couples who are not ready to divorce.
If you are separated from your spouse but do not want to divorce immediately for religious, financial, or other reasons, a legal separation would clearly define the rights and responsibilities of each partner. The spouses have a court order to rely upon that covers the issues that would normally be decided in a divorce.
With a legal separation, assets (money, property, etc.) accumulated during the separation will belong to each individual and will not be considered joint assets. Any money awarded for spousal support under a legal separation is usually known as separate maintenance, not alimony or child support.
As with a divorce, it's important to have an attorney experienced in family law represent your interests when you are getting legally separated. Decisions made for the legal separation regarding finances and child custody and support will likely influence what you may receive if you decide to divorce later.
If a couple simply splits up without a court decreeing a legal separation, their rights may be different. There are three such kinds of separation:
Avvo's Divorce Resource Center (http://divorce.avvo.com)
Divorce Info: Trial separation (http://www.divorceinfo.com/trialseparation.htm)
Ezine Articles: Legal Separation - What You Need To Know (http://ezinearticles.com/?Legal-Separation---What-You-Need-To-Know&id=380784)
Understanding Divorce (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/understanding-divorce)
Divorce Mediation (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/divorce-mediation)
No-Fault Divorce (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/no-fault-divorce)
Military Divorce (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/military-divorce)
Divorce Settlement (http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/divorce-settlement)