There are no procedural differences between filing for divorce and filing for legal separation. Both involve a 90-day waiting period between filing and court ruling, and the same pleadings (court documents). However, the main difference between a decree of legal separation and a decree of dissolution of marriage is that in a legal separation, you are still legally married and that status may entitle you to remain on your spouse’s health and auto insurance plans or confer other possible financial benefits. If you don’t yet know how you want to divide assets like 401(k)s, IRAs or other investments, there may not be a need to make such decisions while legally separated. There also may be some benefit regarding social security benefit distributions while legally separated. Finally, some people choose to obtain a legal separation due to religious reasons.
Prior to the court granting a decree in either instance, you may shift a legal separation filing to a dissolution of marriage filing or vice versa at will. After the decree is entered for a legal separation, the court may not convert it to a dissolution of marriage for at least six months after the decree is signed.