While a divorce is a permanent end to a marriage, a legal separation allows couples to remain married despite living separately, according to About.com. Couples can file joint taxes and maintain joint health insurance and military benefits when legally separated.
When legally separated, couples acquire a court order outlining the responsibilities and rights of each spouse, according to About.com. The court order is binding, and it typically outlines a division of assets and debts, child custody and child support, spousal support and visitation or custody schedules, similar to agreements entered upon divorce. However, with a legal separation, this court order can be dissolved or changed if the couple chooses to reunite, whereas, with a divorce, the order is permanent and ends the marriage.
Couples can typically maintain health insurance together when legally separated but not when divorced. However, some employers treat a legal separation in the same way as a divorce when it comes to benefits, according to divorce analyst Jeff Landers, a Forbes contributor.
Some couples choose to obtain a legal separation to remain married due to religious beliefs, states Landers. Whereas a divorce may violate a couple's morals or values, a legal separation allows couples to live separately while keeping the legal bonds of the marriage.