A legal separation action allows the Court to address and grant all of the relief that is available in a dissolution of marriage action. However, the Court does not dissolve the marriage. Clients, at times, will choose to legally separate, in lieu of dissolution, because they do not want to divorce or perhaps to maintain one spouse's health benefits for a period. (Legal separation is an option for persons who do not want to divorce based on religious convictions.)
The following are (some) important facts regarding filing a legal separation, versus filing a dissolution of marriage action:
If a party files a legal separation action, but during the tendency of the legal separation action he/she decides that it is time to dissolve the marital union, an amended petition (a petition for dissolution of marriage) will need to be filed and served on the other spouse, unless the other spouse has already cross-petitioned to dissolve the marriage.
If the parties finalize a legal separation action, i.e. the decree of legal separation, and it is entered with the Court, the decree is easily converted to a decree of dissolution, (i.e. a divorce decree). Six months after the Court finalizes the decree of legal separation, either spouse may at any time file a motion with the court to change the decree of legal separation into a decree of dissolution without the other spouse's agreement/consent. The Court must grant the request. All of the other parts of the legal separation orders, such as the order of child support and final parenting plan, will not be affected and will remain in full force and effect.