A legal separation and divorce are more similar than different. In fact, except for a few key points they are almost the same. The difference is in the legal standard one must meet to obtain a legal separation or divorce and the relief you get from either. Even then, the difference only has to do with whether or not the marriage continues.
All states have legal standards a couple has to meet in order to divorce. You have your no-fault states in which anyone can divorce, reason or no reason. Then you have New York State, which still requires grounds for divorce.
In the end, a divorce simply means that the state you live in recognizes that your marriage is broken and can’t be fixed.
A court can grant a legal separation if “irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused a temporary or unlimited breakdown of the marriage.” A legal separation suspends the marriage whereas a divorce ends the marriage.
The relief offered by a legal separation or a divorce is, again, quite similar and in some situations exactly the same. In cases of legal separation and divorce, most state courts can make provisions for:
In essence, the difference between a legal separation and a divorce will depend on your state’s standards for handling each. In most cases, if all you want is a legal separation, you will get the relief you need until you are able to make the decision to divorce.