The most distinct difference between separation and divorce is that a divorce legally and permanently terminates the marriage. Once the divorce is final (and subject to any waiting periods establish by the laws of your state), both parties are free to remarry someone else without any repercussions.
A separation, on the other hand, does not terminate the marriage and does not give the parties the right to remarry without first getting a divorce.
Other aspects of the split – such as child support, property division, custody issues and alimony can all be addressed through a legal separation just as they would be in a divorce and in many states, the legal separation agreement can later be converted to a divorce at the request of one or both of the parties.
So, what’s the point of getting a legal separation?
While there are a few different types of separation, a legal separation will protect your interests as well as that of your spouse while the two of you decide how to proceed as the separation is documented with a separation agreement or court order. Often couples find a way to work things out and choose to reconcile. With a legal separation, there would be no need to remarry as the marriage was never terminated. For some people, their religious or cultural beliefs prohibit them from divorcing. A legal separation would give them all of the legal protections of a divorce, without the divorce.
And in the event that you do later decide divorce is the right choice, that decision is likely made with a clearer state of mind as you’ve allowed some time for the emotions to settle. In fact, many states require that couples separate first before granting a divorce to be sure that the divorce is really what they want and not just a decision made in the heat of the moment.