A judgment of a court granting legal separation declares that you and your spouse are legally separate. The judgment requires that you and your spouse be treated as separate persons. After the judgment of legal separation you can no longer file income taxes as married, you are no longer entitled to share in each other’s earnings or to support each other (unless you have agreed to in a separation agreement). The difference between legal separation and divorce is that in legal separation neither side can re-marry and the right to inherit is not terminated, except by a properly written and signed agreement. Generally, the timing and cost of a legal separation in court is about the same as for a divorce.
Today, people rarely go to court for a legal separation. The great majority of separations are by agreement. Signing a separation agreement allows you and your spouse to divide property, to end each other’s obligations to support each other, and to agree on how to split responsibility for debts. After a legal separation or a separation by agreement, getting a divorce is relatively quick and easy. The terms of the separation are made part of the divorce judgment.
Some people do not get a divorce after they are separated. There can be many reasons, including religious prohibitions or maintaining health insurance for both spouses. Some kinds of health insurance and some survivor benefits of life insurance will cover separated individuals, but not people who are divorced.
If you are unsure about your situation, a good place to start would be the benefits or personnel office of your employer. Some careful research now may save you many dollars later.