If you are not certain you want a divorce, then one option is to file for a legal separation. This is not a common practice as discussed below. To begin with, though, it is helpful to understand exactly what a legal separation involves.
A legal separation case is opened by filing a Petition for Legal Separation in the county in which the couple resides. The initial portion of a legal separation case is similar to a divorce case. If needed, either party may request a provisional hearing at which time the court may enter orders as to custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance payments, possession of the marital residence, and payment of expenses.
The primary difference between legal separation and divorce is what follows the provisional agreement or order. Generally, the answer is nothing. The goal of a legal separation is not to dissolve the marriage, but rather to set the ground rules while the parties are separated. While there can be a “final hearing” in a legal separation case, it is not final for purposes of dissolving the marriage.
Why are legal separations not all that common? The main reason is that if the marriage has deteriorated to the point where the couple no longer wants to live together, then at least one spouse has usually made the decision to file for divorce. If one spouse wants a divorce, then a legal separation is not an option. If a divorce case is pending, or one spouse files to convert the legal separation case to a divorce case, then a divorce is what will happen.
A legal separation decree is only effective for one year. At the end of that year, the legal separation decree expires or one party must file to convert the separation case to a divorce case.